SA swimmers record fast times in Manchester

South African swim stars Cameron van der Burgh and Gerhard Zandberg joined Shaun Harris and Lize Mari Retief in a morning of fast times at the Fina World Short-Course Championships in Manchester on Saturday.

Van der Burgh, the silver medallist in the 100m breaststroke earlier in the week, clocked 26,99 seconds in the 50m breaststroke heats and moved to the semifinals along with Zandberg, a bronze medallist in the 50m freestyle. Zandberg finished in 27,47.

Zandberg also qualified for the semifinals of the 100m individual medley, in producing a morning heats time of 54,53 seconds — the sixth fastest of the qualifying session.

Retief, a Pretoria University sports science student, clocked the fastest time in the 100m butterfly heats, ending in 57,51 to advance to the semifinals. With the 100m butterfly final and the 50m freestyle too close together on the programme, Retief has opted to sit out the freestyle event, in order to focus on a fast time in the butterfly discipline.

Shaun Harris, who carried the South African flag into the opening ceremony of the championships earlier in the week, sped to a morning heats time of 48,08 seconds — the fifth fastest of the morning in the 100m freestyle heats — to qualify for the semifinals.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry broke her third world record of the week on her way to winning a fourth gold medal at the championships.

Coventry smashed American Allison Wagner’s 200m individual medley record, which was the oldest short-course world record at 15 years, by 1,66 seconds to set a new best of 2:06,13.

In an exciting session of finals, the Dutch 4x100m freestyle team also set a new world record of 3:29,42 on their way to gold, beating the previous best by nine-10ths of a second.

American Ryan Lochte set a new world record of 51,25 in the semifinal of the men’s 100m individual medley — his third world best of the event.

Elsewhere, Jessica Hardy of the United States added the 100m breaststroke title to her 50m crown and compatriot Peter Marshall took gold in the men’s 50m backstroke final, with Australian Adam Pine winning a first individual title of his career with a gold in the 50m butterfly.

But it is the performance of Coventry, who is the only swimmer representing her country at the event, that continues to captivate as she continues to take on the American and Australian teams in the medals table on her own.

Coventry held off the impressive Spaniard Mireia Belmonte, who also beat the old record by 0,32 seconds, in the 200m medley.

”I knew it was possible to win these medals before I came here, but I never dreamed I would do this well,” Coventry said. ”Swimming well on the first day got me really fired up and I just went from there. I hope I can go into Beijing and just keep the ball rolling.”

In the women’s 4x100m freestyle, The Netherlands shook off Great Britain and Australia in a thrilling race to finish first. Having missed the butterfly heats earlier in the day due to illness, Inge Dekker played a key role and said: ”I still don’t feel great. I felt very ill this morning, very shaky, and was up all night. But clearly I had something left in the tank, so this medal is fantastic.”

Having picked up her second gold of the competition, Hardy revealed she was disappointed not to have broken another world record.

She said: ”It was a great competitive field, so I am really happy with my performance. I was hoping to set a world record, but it was still a great time [1:04,22, a new championship record], so I am very happy with that. I’m not fully tapered for this meet, so to get these times is really exciting.”

Australian Pine believes that the 50m butterfly title — his first individual gold — is a major boost ahead of the Olympics in Beijing this summer.

He said: ”I’ve gone two seconds faster with my long-course time and I’m going to the Olympics. There is still plenty of improvement there. It feels great, it feels good to finally win something at this level. I’ve been in this sport for a long time and it’s just great to take advantage of these opportunities.”

In the semifinals, Coventry booked her place in another final by qualifying third-fastest for the 50m backstroke and the Croatian Duje Draganja clocked the fastest time to qualify for the final of the men’s 100m freestyle event.

Celebrating her 18th birthday, Britain’s Fran Halsall touched with the fastest qualifying time in the women’s 50m freestyle semifinals. Despite his fine form in the individual medley, Lochte failed to reach the final of the men’s 50m breaststroke. — Sapa, Sapa-AFP

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