The women are showing up and doing SA proud in the swimming pool
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By Karien Jonckheere
GQEBERHA – In 2016, there was just one female swimmer on the Olympic team to Rio – and that was Michelle Weber in the 10km open water event, not in the pool.
So when Rebecca Meder touched the wall to stop the clock at 3:40.29 in the 4x100m freestyle relay at the SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha on Saturday, it was about way more than simply breaking a national and continental record.
That time saw the quartet all but qualifying for a place in Tokyo. The top 12 teams from the previous World Championships automatically qualify for the following Olympics and then there are just four places open for the next fastest teams in the world. South Africa now occupies one of those spots.
The event holds special significance for South Africans after the men’s combination of Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns, Darian Townsend and Ryk Neethling sped to Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 in world record time.
And while the women’s team of Meder, Aimee Canny, Emma Chelius and Erin Gallagher, may be a little way off that yet, they have two teenagers in their ranks and the oldest of the four is just 24, so there’s plenty of potential.
“I’ve had swimming friends from around the world who sent me clips of the golden boys in Athens and asking me – is this the future of SA swimming with these girls now?” said national coach Graham Hill. “Not in Tokyo yet but in the future. Hopefully in Paris in 2024 we can do something special there again.”
Hill added that developing the women’s team has been a priority since the last Games. “We came back from Rio and sat down and looked at everything. We knew we had potential in these young girls coming through. We made a statement that we’re going to improve women’s swimming in South Africa and we’re bearing the fruits of it now. It looks good for us for the future.”
After achieving the record time, an ecstatic Gallagher said: “I’m so proud of these girls – I get a bit emotional. It’s just seeing that in swimming in South Africa the girls are really showing up and doing this country proud.”
Meder added: “I think I feel a little ill actually. I’ve got such butterflies in my tummy. I’m just so proud of these girls. To anchor for this team was just such a blessing – to be the one to touch the wall and see the time and see my teammates on the side of the pool was just incredible.”