The squad has at least seven medal contenders, who are champing at the bit.
If history, and the strength of South Africa’s swimming team, is anything to go by, most of the country’s medals at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will be won in the pool.
In the previous edition of the games in Delhi, seven of South Africa’s 12 gold medals were won by the swimming squad, in addition to four silver and five bronze medals.
Chad le Clos – the 2012 London Olympics gold medallist in the 200m men’s butterfly – reigned supreme in India, where he won the 400m individual medley. Cameron van der Burgh, also a gold medallist at the 2012 London Olympics 200m men’s breaststroke, won the 100m and 200m breaststroke.
The swimming team’s coach, Graham Hill, said the team was looking forward to competing: “Commonwealth is big, and swimmers know if you can win a medal here, two years later at the Olympics you are in a good position.”
He said Van der Burgh, Le Clos, Roland Schoeman, Dylan Bosch, Myles Brown, Sebastien Rousseau and Karin Prinsloo are all medal contenders.
Schoeman – a veteran of four Olympics Games – will be seeking to add to the four gold, three silver and three bronze Commonwealth medals under his belt.
Middle-distance swimmer Brown comes to the Games after winning six golds and one silver in the Mare Nostrum series in Barcelona in June.
Rousseau has had an impressive round of victories on the collegiate swimming circuit in the United States, winning four golds at the US Open Championships last year. He will compete in the 400m individual medley, as well as the 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.
Karin Prinsloo, who also won in the Mare Nostrum series, will be competing in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle events, as well the three relays.
“The 200m freestyle will be my best chance of a medal,” she said. “I’m currently number four going into the Games so it will be tough but I’m hoping for a top five place at least. I’m hoping to make the top six in the 100m freestyle and I’ll be more than happy with a top eight place in the 400m freestyle because I’m not currently so well ranked there.”
Van der Burgh said that he aimed to give the 50m and 100m breaststroke events his best shot: “As long as I finish the race knowing I’m doing everything in my power to be the best, I will be happy with that.”
Track and field
South Africa’s track and field squad will also be in action in Glasgow over the next few days. Sunette Viljoen will be aiming for her third consecutive gold in the women’s javelin and LJ van Zyl – who won gold in the 400m men’s hurdles at the 2006 Commonwealth Games and silver at the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Final – will be aiming for the podium again.
“I was recently at a training camp in Italy preparing for Glasgow,” he said. “The last part of my training involved a lot of speed and trying to get my first four hurdles faster to build up my momentum for the last part.”
Meanwhile, Simon Magakwe, who became the first South African to run 100m in under 10 seconds earlier this year, will be trying to put behind his subsequent poor showing in the IAAF Diamond League.
“I am disappointed about my recent performances,” he admitted.
“My start has been holding me back. But I’ve been training hard and focusing on it. My goal is just to see myself making the final.”
Skhosana to unify athletics
When Aleck Skhosana was elected president of Athletics South Africa last month, one of the first things he had to oversee was the finalising of the Commonwealth Games track and field team.
“When we came in the horses had already galloped; we came in on the 7th, and the closing date to submit the final team was the 11th,” he says.
Skhosana says he is satisfied with the final squad of 13. “They are very strong, and they stand a good chance of proceeding to round one or two or the finals, depending on how their events are structured. We are hopeful that they will do us proud.”
Skhosana has taken over a body that has been at the centre of controversy for several months. Under his watch as president of KwaZulu-Natal Athletics in 2011-2012, there were allegations of fraud and mismanagement.
“When I was elected I said the war must come to an end, and the focus must be on the athletes and on the development of athletes and coaches,” he said.
“I am not here to prove people who are saying things about me right or wrong,” he added. “I am here to work for athletics and the unity of athletics.”
Skhosana said he hoped to take the sport back to its heyday when it was passionately followed by supporters and enjoyed healthy corporate sponsorships.
“South Africans are positive people – they know that we have dark days and bright days. And there were dark days when athletics was at war with itself. Now it’s just a matter of focusing on athletics so that we can reclaim our position of being the number one sport in the country.”