Double Commonwealth Games champion Lara van Niekerk wasted no time in getting a World Championship and Olympic qualifying mark in the bag at the second Grand Prix meet of the year in Durban.
The 19-year-old from Pretoria swam 1:06.65 in the heats of the 100m breaststroke on Friday to dip under the A qualifying time for both the World Championships in Japan this July and next year’s Paris Olympics, though she’ll need to swim the time again at the South African National Championships to officially qualify.
With the finals of the meet being contested in the morning rather than the evening, Van Niekerk went slightly slower on Saturday, but was still well ahead of the pack, taking the victory in 1:07.88, Swimming South Africa said in a release on Saturday afternoon.
Fellow Commonwealth medalist Kaylene Corbett was second in a World Championships B qualifying time of 1:08.89, but her main focus will be on the 200m breaststroke, an event in which she reached the Olympic final in 2021.
“For me, this is a train-through meet so anything I’m doing right now is incredibly good for me in comparison to training and how hard we’ve trained up until today, so I’m having fun and enjoying the racing. That’s the important part about these Grand Prix meets,” said Corbett afterwards.
“It’s world champs and World Student Games this year so two big competitions that we’re all excited for … we’re just celebrating all the small victories in our training at the moment.
“And Lara swimming an Olympic A qualifying time now already is just incredible,” she added.
Also dipping under a World Championship A qualifying time on Saturday was teenage Olympian Pieter Coetzé who swam 53.92 for victory in the 100m backstroke.
“I’m very happy, we’re not tapered at all, not rested or shaved or anything so we didn’t really have any expectations coming into this,” said the Commonwealth Games gold, silver and bronze medallist. “I’ve been having fun just racing and getting used to it and I’m very happy and surprised with the time I got this morning.”
As for the importance of the Grand Prix meets, the 18-year-old added: “I think it’s very important for all the swimmers around the country to come together and have some fun and to race. The racing is very important in the build-up to Nationals. There’s a different kind of fitness that comes with racing compared to just training all the time.”
Several swimmers also recorded World Championships B qualifying times. Among them were Commonwealth Games silver medallist Erin Gallagher, Emma Chelius, Milla Drakopoulos, Rebecca Meder, and Hannah Pearse.
Gallagher claimed victory in the 100m butterfly in 59.59 seconds and then pushed Emma Chelius all the way in the 50m freestyle. Chelius just edged ahead to win in 25.57 with Gallagher second in 25.73.
Meder took top honours in the 200m individual medley (2:13.94) and 200m freestyle (2:00.92) — achieving B qualifying times in both — while 16-year-old Drakopoulos did the same in the 50m backstroke (29.16) and Pearse in the 200m backstroke (2:14.12) finishing over seven seconds clear of the chasing pack.
In other action, Pietermaritzburg swimmer Clayton Jimmie came out on top in the men’s 100m freestyle, finishing in a time of 50.99 while also taking the 50m butterfly title in 24.65, Brenden Crawford took top honours in the men’s 50m breaststroke in 28.93 seconds, and 15-year-old Kris Mihaylov claimed the men’s 400m individual medley title in 4:32.63 — more than eight seconds ahead of Brendan Visser who was second in 4:40.93.
Grand Prix action concludes at the Kings Park Swimming Pool in Durban on Sunday.