Roland Schoeman, a silver medallist in the 100m freestyle at the Athens Games, is looking to give struggling South Africa a medal boost in the pool at the Beijing Olympics.
South Africa has yet to claim a medal in Beijing, but Schoeman (28) is looking to the helter-skelter 50m freestyle — in which he won bronze in Athens in 2004 — to break through.
Schoeman made a promising start, finishing ahead of the new Olympic 100m freestyle champion Alain Bernard and world-record holder Eamon Sullivan in his 50m heat in a fifth-fastest 21,76 seconds on Thursday.
Frenchman Amaury Leveaux broke an Olympic record with 21,46 to lead the field into Friday’s semifinals.
”I’d love to be able to hold the South African flag up high there; it would be fantastic to come away with a medal. South Africa is struggling a bit at these Games,” Schoeman said. ”These times are ridiculously fast. The world of swimming has changed drastically. I think it will only get faster; it’ll take a 21,2 or 21,3 to win here.”
Australia’s Sullivan holds the world record in the event at 21,28 seconds.
The seasoned Schoeman, who took the bronze medal behind American Gary Hall Jnr in this event in Athens, is expecting Bernard and Sullivan to recover from the rigours of Thursday’s 100m final and bounce back in the semifinals.
”Tomorrow is going to be another day, and then Saturday will be a real dogfight until the end,” he said. ”Alain and Eamon will be a bit tired from this morning, I expect them to be a bit more lively tomorrow and Saturday.”
Schoeman said he had restructured his training programme to keep up with Bernard and Sullivan in the sprint events.
”I decided to change my training this year. I had 10 years of the same thing, and I decided to do some things differently,” he said. ”If it pays off — fantastic. This is how you learn. The Aussies and the French are obviously doing something right and hopefully I can take some experience from this.
”I’d love to walk away with a medal, but in all reality nothing is written in stone. Bernard and Sullivan are out there on their own, it’s up to the rest of us to try and catch them up and pull the rug from underneath them.” — Sapa-AFP