Tatjana Schoenmaker leading SA women swimming revival
Tatjana Schoenmaker is set to lead the much-anticipated resurgence of women swimmers at the national championships in Durban this week.
They've been quiet the past few years, with none qualifying for the 2015 world championships and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Schoenmaker was the sole qualifier for the 2017 championships, though she opted to go to the World Student Games instead.
But now a few of SA's sisters are threatening to hit the tough qualifying times at the Kings Park pool to book their spots for the world championships in Gwangju in July.
Underlining the women's revival is the fact that Schoenmaker could even have company in the 200m breaststroke.
Kaylene Corbett, her training partner at Tuks in Pretoria, recently clocked 2min 25.98sec, a mere 0.07sec off the mark she needs to get to South Korea.
But the 19-year-old education student is already eyeing the 2:25.52 criterion she'll need for the Tokyo Olympics next year.
"Tatjana and I are so close and we're such good friends, to share that experience [world championships and Olympics] with her would be incredible. It makes me so excited to think. The plan with [coach] Rocco [Meiring] was to try and swim the [Olympic] qualifying time a year out.
"To think I'm so close is insane."
If Corbett pulls it off, SA will have two Games-bound women's breaststrokers for the first time since Sydney 2000, when the SA squad featured Penny Heyns and Sarah Poewe.
"This will be the first world champs where I think a lot more girls will be qualifying," Schoenmaker said this week.
Corbett believes the recent drought years made them tougher.
"All of us girls tried to step up, tried to do it ... now we're motivated, more excited, more focused, more experienced, so all of that adds to us just being more ready for 2020.
"Back then I couldn't handle the pressure," said Corbett, who had to overcome the additional hurdle of a serious ankle injury last year.
For several weeks she could only pull in training, unable to kick with her right ankle strapped tightly so it couldn't bend.
Schoenmaker is hoping to repeat her SA record times that won her double gold at the Commonwealth Games last year.
"That would be great, just so I know that I'm back to where I was and that means maybe for world champs I can maybe drop under that time.
"But if I don't I'm also not going to be stressed out ... as long as I get the qualifying time I'm going to be happy."
Schoenmaker has grown into herself since her feats at Gold Coast 2018, appearing more relaxed these days and generally flashing more smiles.
The financial sciences student will complete her studies this year as she clears her plate for 2020. "I have two subjects this year. I thought it would be less work," she said, and then added with a laugh: "but it feels like it's the same amount."
These will be her first world championships, a key test before Japan.
"I'm quite excited. I've completed all the steps so far - I've been to World Students, I've been to Commonwealth, so the next step is world champs."
Schoenmaker, 21, finished 2018 ranked fourth in the world in the 200m breaststroke; above her were swimmers from Russia, Japan and the US, whom she is likely to face for the first time this year.
"It's going to be a whole different scene, but I think that's going to prepare me for the Olympics."