2 APRIL 2003
With the clock ticking steadily towards next year's Olympic Games in Athens, swimmers at this year's Telkom national championships will be aiming to beat the qualifying times that would gain them selection for the national team to compete at the 10th FINA world championships in Barcelona in July.
The six-day Olympic-format nationals get under way today at Durban's King's Park pool and a full turn-out of our top swimmers is expected with the addition of four visitors from Europe, Lorgeril Arnaud (France), Alena Popchanka and Hanna Scherba (Belarus) and Swiss international Alain Tardin.
Heats are from 9.30am and finals from 6pm daily until next Monday.
KZN Swimming chairman Ronnie Andrews said that these championships would act as a full scale rehearsal for the third leg of the FINA World Cup to be held at this venue from December 5-7.
"We are putting several administrative and practical functions to the test," said Andrews, "and generally aiming at streamlining things to keep the programme moving along and keeping the public well informed and interested."
Andrews said that capturing a leg of the World Cup was a big feather in Durban's cap and that the contract for staging it was for a three-year period.
There are only two sets of finals this evening, the men's and women's 400m freestyle and the 4x100m relays, but the programme incorporates the semi-finals of the 50m freestyle, 100m breaststroke, 200m butterfly and 200m backstroke.
Golden Girl of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial championships, Melissa Corfe of Mr Price Seagulls, should have no problem taking over the national 400m freestyle title from Kirsten van Heerden in tonight's final based on performances so far this season.
Corfe has signalled her intention of winning all four freestyle finals from 200 to 1 500m and her coach Graham Hill has suggested she also has the potential of setting new national records at this meet.
In this case she will have to lower her own national record of 4min 15.66sec set at the KZN championships on January 10.
Mark Randall of Border is the man to beat in the men's 400m but his entry time of 3:58.92 is a long way off Ryk Neethling's 3:46.31 national record and he is likely to be chased to the timing boards by James Wilcox (WP) and the emerging young star Troyden Prinsloo (KZN).
The 50m freestyle semi-finals will doubtless provide the biggest thrills of the evening with Roland Schoeman (NG) starting clear favourite but with long-time national team swimmer Neethling (KZN) just as likely to retain the title he won last year in 23:02.
But watch out for Eugene Botts, a newcomer on the scene on a swim scholarship at Penn State University who comes here direct from the NCAA Championships in the USA.
The women's event includes the two swimmers from Belarus who have posted the fastest entry times but there has to be a new SA title holder in view of the retirement of Helene Muller, winner of the last year's 50m, 100m and 200m freestyle finals.
Again there is a new face in the picture, that of Lauren Roets (NG) who rewrote the record books at the recent age group championships in Bloemfontein with Charlene Wittstock (KZN) always a threat.
Ingrid Haiden (WP) seems the likely successor to Sarah Poewe in the 100m breaststroke, Poewe having elected to change her allegiance to Germany.
Haiden's training companions, Ziada Jardine, Claire Williams and Natalie Burke, look set to make it a 1-2-3 for Western Province.
Brett Peterson (KZN) will be out to retain his men's 100m breaststroke title but with Terence Parkin (KZN), Chris Stewart (CG) and Louis Lotter (NG) all in the line-up this is a close race to call.
Mandy Loots will surely win the women's 200m fly but with Theo Verster ill with glandular fever the men's race could go to Andrew Hogg (WP) or Grant O'Brien (KZN).
Likewise Wittstock should retain her 200m backstroke title against Corfe and George du Rand (FS) keep the men's title in the face of opposition from Jeff Norton (KZN) and Tardin and don't be surprised if there is a new national record here.
Johannesburg - A practice run for the World Championships - that's how Gerhard Zandberg views the Mare Nostrum galas in Canet and Barcelona this weekend and next week.
Zandberg is one of 33 South African swimmers who departed for Barcelona on Wednesday. The Pretoria-based back-stroke swimmer said before boarding a plane that he had wrapped up his preparations with an intensive practice camp in Bloemfontein last week.
"My body is sore. Swimming 16 kilometres every day is no joke, but I'm glad I attended the camp. It definitely raised my fitness level," was Zandberg's comment on the intensive programme he was subjected to by Simon Grey, who formerly coached Ryk Neethling.
Zandberg said the two galas would give a good indications of the times he was capable of, especially with a view to the World Championships in Barcelona next month.
"My main goal is still to swim at the Olympic Games, and therefore I did not scale down for the Mare Nostrum galas. I'm nevertheless hoping to set good times at the World meet."
The Pretoria Aquatics swimmer is coached by Francois Boshoff and Gerhard van der Walt. Even though he is only 19 years old, he has already represented South Africa at a number of galas overseas. He also won a bronze medal in the 50-metres back-stroke - his favourite item - at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
The South African team:
Men: Theo Verster, Gerhard Zandberg, Jeff Norton, Nick Wilson, Darian Townsend, Neil Versfeld, Troyden Prinsloo, Mark Randall, Grant Galant, Khalid Railoun, Stefan Ackermann, Terence Parkin, Jay Badenhorst, Pieter Pelser.
Women: Jo-Anne Bergman, Suzaan van Biljon, Romy Altmann, Ingrid Haiden, Lana Piemontesi, Chanelle van Wyk, Natalie du Toit, Ziada Jardine, Christine Zwiegers, Velia Janse van Rensburg, Kirsten van Heerden, Bianca Meyer, Mandy Loots, Lauren Roets, Melissa Corfe, Lauren Sparg, Vanessa van der Heyde, Erna Wedemeyer, Romina Armellini.