Young swimming gems set to sparkle
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.