Close to 3 000 athletes from 190 countries will compete in the 16th edition of the Fédération Internationale de Natation (Fina) World Championships in Kazan, Russia, from July 24 to August 9.
Among them will be a 43-member strong South African squad, eager to start their preparations for next year’s Olympic Games.
Six-time Midmar Mile champion Chad Ho will be among the first to compete, together with Daniel Marais, Michelle Weber and Clarice le Roux in the 5km open water events on July 25. They’ll also feature later in the competition in the 10km races, with Nicolaos Manoussakis concluding the open water category in the 25km race on August 1.
South Africa will also feature in the men’s and women’s water polo competitions, as well as in synchronised swimming – represented by Kerry-Beth Norden, Emma Manners-Wood, Laura Strugnell and Courtney Musson – and diving where Nicole Gillis, Julia Vincent, Jaimee Gundry and Micaela Bouter will compete.
But all eyes are likely to be on the swimming team made up of Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh, Myles Brown, Sebastien Rousseau and Ayrton Sweeney.
Brown (22) dominated the freestyle events at the South African National Aquatic Championships in April, in Durban, winning gold in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle races, breaking two national records (400m and 800m) and beating Le Clos (200m) in the process.
He also impressed at the Mare Nostrum series in Europe, finishing second and third in the 400m and 200m freestyle events in Canet, France, third in the 800m freestyle in Barcelona and first and second in the 400m and 200m freestyle events in Monaco.
Brown said he’ll be swimming the 200m, 400m and 800 freestyle events in Kazan. “I would really love to make a final in all three – that would be good for me, as I haven’t raced many finals in major swim events. And obviously [my goal is also] to try to swim my best times in the process.
“We had some good training and racing in Europe so that’s always a confidence booster. I’m mainly trying not to get too ahead of myself and let the competition get the better of me.”
The headlines he made during the South African national championships haven’t put him under any kind of pressure to excel in Kazan, he said. “I learnt a lot about myself during those nationals so the goal is just to try stay relaxed and calm and just swim my best and stay focused on myself. Those nationals are in the past. Yes, they were good for me, but my focus is forward to world champs and it’s a completely different event so I can’t live in the past – it’s a new day.”
‘A pretty big deal’
He describes Fina World Championships as “a pretty big deal … it’s one of the biggest swimming competitions besides the Olympics … it’s really important to try swim some fast times and gain some momentum amongst the world’s best swimmers to take through to Rio next year. It’s always amazing to represent your country against the best in the world and this is where we do it so it’s great to be a part of the team.
“It’s basically the last big competition before Rio so it’s important to race hard and try gain as much knowledge and experience against your competitors as you can so that you are better prepared for the Olympics. It also helps swimming your best times to build your confidence in the build up to Rio.”
Sweeney (21) qualified for Fina when he won the national 200m breaststroke title in April. Rousseau (24) claimed the gold medal in the 400m individual medley in Durban, where he also qualified for the 200m butterfly in Kazan.
“I am swimming the 200m butterfly and the 400m individual medley in Russia,” he said. “These are my two focus races leading up to the Rio Olympics. The goal for both races is to make the final and compete for medals,” Rousseau said.
For Rousseau, who is on a swimming scholarship in the United States, competitions like the world championships have added meaning: “It is always exciting going to these international competitions and getting to be there with my South African teammates. I’ve known these guys for years and we always have a blast when we are together. I do miss being able to see these guys as much as I would be able to if I was living in South Africa.”