What do Tatjana Schoenmaker and Chad Le Clos have in common? They are the only two swimmers who have unofficially qualified for the the Olympic Games in Rio at Swim South Africa (SSA)’s Grand Prix Gala in Port Elizabeth. Le Clos did so in the 200m butterfly, 100m freestyle and 200m freestyle and Schoenmaker (Tuks Swim Academy) in the 200m butterfly. The reason why their qualification is not official yet is that only the results at the South African Championships in April will be taken into account for Olympic qualification.
However, the 18-year-old Schoenmaker has good reason to smile. In fact, she does not hesitate to describe her winning time of 2:26.50 in the 200m butterfly as the absolute highlight of her swimming career. Considering that she has improved her time by nearly four seconds since January, there is certainly merit in her claim.
In Nelspruit her winning time was 2:30.43. Last year her best time was 2:28.43. Schoenmaker is the only local female swimmer so far this season that was able to swim a time faster than the Olympic qualification.
Schoenmaker, who matriculated at TuksSport High School last year says: ‘It is a great relief to have done so. For me it was like breaking through a barrier. When you put in the long hard hours in training and you don’t swim the times you are training for you begin to question your abilities. Hopefully it will be easier from now on.’ She hopes to qualify in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events for Rio. Her best time of 1:08:40 in the 100m breaststroke is just 0.55s slower than what she needs to swim to qualify.
The Tuks swimmer says: ‘If I do get selected to go to the Games don’t expect any ‘fireworks’. It is going to be a learning experience for me. If I am able to go through to the semi-finals it will feel like ‘mission accomplished’ to me, but I have to be realistic. To do so I will have to improve on my time of 2:26.50. My mom did a bit of research. At the moment it ranks me 23rd in the world in the 200m butterfly. To qualify for the semi-finals I need to be among the 20 fastest swimmers.’ Asked what her favourite distance is, Schoenmaker responded by saying: ‘Before the Port Elizabeth gala it was a case of ‘either or’, but now I think I prefer the longer event because I am not really much of a sprinter.’ Schoenmaker hopes to be a medal contender at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Schoenmaker denies having any role models, saying: ‘I don’t strive to be like any other swimmer. I am my own person and I want to make my own way into the international swimming arena.’ At last year’s South African Championships Schoenmaker won the 100m breaststroke in 1:08.85 and the 200m breaststroke in 2:29.23. She was second in the 50m breaststroke in 32.45s and was also part of the team that won the 4×100 relay in 4:12.04.
At the African Games she dominated the breaststroke events by winning the 50m breaststroke in 32.49 seconds, the 100m breaststroke in 1:09.47 and the 200m breaststroke in 2:28.84.
Photo credit: Reg Caldecott