The legacy of Penny Heyns’s feats from 20 years ago seems to be the encroaching green platina on the plaques in her honour at the King’s Park pool in Durban.
Metropolitan Funeral Plan
When she ruled the breaststroke world – to date she is the only woman to win the double at an Olympics – women owned the limelight of local swimming.
The men were a sideshow in those days.
But before the final session of the SA championships in Durban on Saturday night‚ not a single woman had achieved a qualifying time for the Rio Games in August.
Chad Le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh had led a charge of nine men qualifiers‚ which is hardly a landslide‚ but whatever success they produce in Brazil will help administrators camouflage the lack of depth in SA swimming.
The SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) decreed that‚ to book their tickets‚ SA swimmers had to achieve the A qualifying standards set by the international aquatics body‚ Fina.
These equate to the 16th best performances from the last Olympics.
The B times‚ to help weaker nations with swimmers incapable of doing A standards‚ don’t count towards selection in SA.
There were no female A-qualifiers‚ but there were 14 women who achieved 20 B-qualifying times in 10 events.
It was probably no coincidence that the two “strongest” events this week were the 100m and 200m breaststroke races.
Five women made B-qualifying times in the 100m breaststroke‚ and three did it in the 200m‚ where Tatjana Schoenmaker came closest to the Brazilian dream‚ missing out on the A time by a heart-breaking one-hundredth of a second.
Is that the legacy of Heyns?
Once following in her footsteps were Sarah Poewe‚ who left SA for Germany‚ and Suzaan van Biljon‚ who broke Heyns’ 200m SA record at London 2012‚ but then retired early in her bid for 2016‚ a little despondent.
A similar demise has happened in the men’s 100m freestyle.
From gold medallists in the 4x100m freestyle at the 2004 Athens Olympics‚ SA couldn’t find one specialist for the final leg of the 4x100m medley relay.
There’s newcomer‚ backstroker Christopher Reid‚ breaststroke star Van der Burgh and then butterfly hero Le Clos.
Closing out the relay in the freestyle leg is new national 100m freestyle champion Calvyn Justus‚ who has focused on the 200m and 400m freestyle. He has a little less than four months to change his approach.
Of the men this week‚ 30 had achieved 50 B-times before last night’s finals‚ and that includes seven of the nine Rio qualifiers‚ who missed the cut in other races.
Only Van der Burgh and Le Clos cracked A standards in every event in which they competed.
Again‚ it’s probably no coincidence that the men’s 100m freestyle produced the highest number of B qualifiers among the men‚ with eight. That’s possibly the legacy of Athens.
Roland Schoeman and Darian Townsend are the last surviving members of that relay.
But Schoeman opted not to do the 100m freestyle here to focus on the 50m freestyle.
Townsend‚ 31‚ moved to the US after representing SA at three Olympics.
He can swim both the 100m and 200m freestyle‚ which would have made him a critical member of the medley and 4x200m freestyle relays.
At the world short course championships in 2014‚ the SA 4x200m freestyle relay ended fourth while Townsend was part of the victorious US.
Had Townsend been swimming in place of SA’s slowest member‚ SA would have won gold.
Will his departure cost SA more medals in Rio?
We’ll find out in four months