Schoeman surges ahead in Olympic pool

South Africa’s Roland Schoeman proved on Thursday night that there is no reason to write him off just yet.

The 28-year-old, who struggled to find his form in the 4x100m freestyle relay earlier in the week, powered his way to victory in the heats of the 50m freestyle, clocking a speedy 21,76 seconds as he eased his way into Friday morning’s semifinals.

The triple medallist from Athens passed both newly crowned 100m freestyle champion Alain Bernard of France and Australia’s world-record holder in the event, Eamon Sullivan, on his way to the wall, but is wary of looking too far ahead in a race that’s dubbed the ”splash and dash” because of its unpredictability. His time was the fifth fastest in the heats.

”’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,” he said afterwards.

”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.”

Explaining his return to form since the relay, Schoeman said: ”The last couple of days I’ve been playing around with my rhythm in the 50 freestyle. It just wasn’t clicking in the 100 at all. It was a fight right from the beginning and it took 24 hours of not swimming and then messing around with my rhythm to start figuring things out.

”’Today I had a great start. I ripped it and the first 30m of the race were wonderful. Tomorrow will be slightly different. I want to be a bit more composed in the first 30 — as fast, but maybe slightly more relaxed. And I think if I can get a great start like that again, and in the finals, anything can happen.

”’I’ve known for a long time that I wouldn’t be swimming the 100 freestyle so the 50’s been the baby for Beijing. It’s where I’d like to hold the South African flag high if possible. That’s what I’ve been geared for, so we’ll see what happens.”

Also making his way through to the 50m freestyle semifinal was Gideon Louw (20), who swam 22,17 seconds to finish sixth in his heat.

”I would have liked to have gone a bit faster because it’s close to my best time. But so far I’m satisfied. I’m glad I get another chance to do it again. My finish was terrible tonight so I’m going to go and work on that a bit,” he said afterwards.

Meanwhile, Schoeman’s fellow Athens gold medallist and training partner Lyndon Ferns may have taken it just a little bit too easy in the 100m butterfly.

”I was cruising,” he quipped as he breezed past the media contingent after swimming 52,04 to win his heat. But four fast heats after his meant the Arizona-based swimmer must have had a few nervous moments watching the TV screen to see if he had made it through to Friday’s semifinals. In the end he just made it, having booked the second-last semifinal spot available.

As for the other South Africans in action on Thursday night, it was Wendy Trott who came closest to becoming the first South African woman to make it through to a final. She swam a new South African and African record time of 8:26,21 in the 800m freestyle to finish fourth in her heat, but missed out on a final berth by just one place.

”I’m not really happy with that. I was hoping go a lot faster and to make the final,” she said. ”I felt good the first 200 but lately I’ve been feeling pretty tired, and after 400 that kind of kicked in and I felt the exhaustion when I should have been feeling more power — but it just didn’t come.”

Another of the South African women who missed out on progressing to the next round was Melissa Corfe, who finished the 200m backstroke in 2:12,64, placing seventh in her heat.

”I think I’ve just been trying a little bit too hard and putting too much pressure on myself before my race,” she explained. ”But I’m happy with my time. It’s the second-fastest time I’ve swum. I suppose you have some good swims and you have some bad swims and that’s what makes you stronger.”

Corfe will have one more shot at reaching a final when she lines up with her South African teammates for the 4x100m medley relay.

”’I’m very excited about the medley relay. It’s going to be tough for us to make the final, but that’s our goal. We’re just going to go out there, enjoy ourselves and swim well as a team,” she said. — Sapa

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