Young swim­ming gems set to sparkle

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - OCKERT DE VILLIERS

SOUTH African swim­ming will make an early start to the sea­son as it looks to se­lect a strong team for the Fina World Cham­pi­onships in Bu­dapest, Hun­gary, in July when it kicks off its Grand Prix se­ries this week­end.

Now in its sec­ond year, the four-legged Swim­ming SA (SSA) Grand Prix se­ries takes place in Nel­spruit, on a low-key first stop.

The gala will be with­out its top swim­mers, in­clud­ing Olympic gold medal­lists Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh. The pair, as has be­come the norm, have been the coun­try’s only two swim­mers to earn podium places at the Fina World Short-Course Cham­pi­onships in Canada less than a month ago.

The se­ries was ini­tially started to raise the gen­eral stan­dard of swim­ming in the coun­try as it needed to find tal­ent that could fol­low in Le Clos and Van der Burgh’s foot­steps.

None of the swim­mers who fea­tured at the Rio Olympic Games will be in ac­tion at the first meet in Nel­spruit, giv­ing the next gen­er­a­tion an op­por­tu­nity to put up their hands.

While the gala is held rel­a­tively early in the sea­son, it will come in handy next year ahead of the Com­mon­wealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia.

This sea­son will see SSA hold two na­tional tri­als, first in April for the Fina World Cham­pi­onships in Bu­dapest be­fore end­ing the year with tri­als for the Com­mon­wealth Games in 2018.

South Africa re­turned from the pre­vi­ous World LongCourse Cham­pi­onships in Kazan, Rus­sia, with a to­tal of five medals – two gold and three sil­ver.

The coun­try did not have any fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the pool two years ago and again failed to do so for the Rio Olympics last year.

SSA chief ex­ec­u­tive Shaun Adri­aanse said ow­ing to the lack of in­ter­na­tional swim­ming meets be­tween De­cem­ber and April, the Grand Prix Se­ries slots in per­fectly to give swim­mers op­por­tu­ni­ties to com­pete.

“Ev­ery­one who makes the team for the Com­mon­wealth Games will have to do some rac­ing af­ter the tri­als,” Adri­aanse said. “The idea is to grow it into a big Grand Prix but we had a few big events such as the African Union Sports Coun­cil Re­gion 5 Un­der-20 Games in Luanda, An­gola, and the World Short-Course Cham­pi­onships back-to-back.”

Adri­aanse said the other op­tion was to host the Com­mon­wealth Games tri­als in Fe­bru­ary or March but they have learned from ex­pe­ri­ence that swim­mers peak at na­tion­als, and fiz­zle out at the ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions.

“When we looked at the cal­en­dar we can’t wait un­til Fe­bru­ary or March be­cause it of­ten hap­pens that ath­letes do well at na­tion­als but don’t per­form at the big meets ex­cept for one or two swim­mers,” he said.

“We want to have greater con­trol over their train­ing and prepa­ra­tions to en­sure we have a good Com­mon­wealth Games.”

Adri­aanse ex­pected the top swim­mers to par­tic­i­pate in the re­main­ing three meets, to be held in Joburg, Dur­ban and Stel­len­bosch over the next two months.

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