Teenager Lara van Niekerk dethroned Tatjana Schoenmaker as the Commonwealth Games 100m breaststroke champion on Tuesday night, but they gave SA an historic gold-silver finish in Birmingham.
Van Niekerk, the 50m breaststroke champion, was the first into the wall, and the question was whether she would have the endurance to hold off Olympic queen Schoenmaker, the 200m breaststroke champion, on the second lap.
But she stormed down the pool to touch first in a 1min 05.47sec personal best. Schoenmaker, owner of the 1:04.82 Olympic record, was second in 1:06.68.
Australian Chelsea Hodges was third in 1:07.05 and the third SA swimmer in the race, Kaylene Corbett, the 200m breaststroke bronze medallist, was seventh.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Van Niekerk’s triumph is that she joins an elite group of SA swimmers to have won two golds at a single Games — Schoenmaker, Chad le Clos, Cameron van der Burgh and Roland Schoeman.
All went on to win multiple Olympic medals.
The win also gave SA a clean sweep of gold in the three women’s breaststroke events. Of the nine medals across the three events, SA pocketed five — one in the 50m, two in the 200m and two in the 100m.
Australia got three and England one.
This was the first time since Vancouver 1954 that SA swimmers landed a gold-silver finish at the Games, when Graham Johnston and Peter Duncan finished one and two in the men’s 1,500m freestyle.
Gold-silver for SA was achieved in track and field at Gold Coast 2018, in the men’s 100m, and it was done twice at the 1912 Olympics, in the men’s marathon and men’s single tennis competition.
Pieter Coetzé took bronze in the men’s 200m backstroke for his third medal of the gala, to add to his 100m gold and 50m silver.
England’s Brodie Williams won in 1:56.40 with Australian Bradley Woodward second in 1:56.41. Coetzé clocked 1:56.77, but his charge down the final lap was particularly impressive.
He was sixth turning into the final fourth lap, but he stormed up to snatch third place by 14-hundredths of a second, posting the fastest last 50m, 29 seconds.
His second lap of 30.07, however, was the second-slowest of the field.
Coetzé was the only swimmer to make the podium in all three events.
Like Van Niekerk, he is part of SA’s exciting new generation of swimmers.
Australian Emma McKeon won the 18th Games medal of her career in the women’s 100m freestyle on Tuesday, briefly drawing level with Le Clos and two shooters, Australian Phillip Adams and Mick Gault of England.
The record had stood since 2002, and Le Clos had shared it for two days before McKeon took it outright on Tuesday night with her 19th medal, gold in the mixed 4x100m medley relay.
The SA team, with Le Clos swimming the butterfly leg, ended fourth.
Le Clos missed another opportunity earlier in the evening, finishing fourth in the men’s 100m butterfly. Canada’s Joshua Liendo Edwards won in 51.24 ahead of Englishman James Guy (51.40) and Australian Matthew Temple (51.40). Le Clos touched in 51.61.
Michael Houlie ended fourth in the men’s 50m breaststroke, where English legend Adam Peaty finally captured his maiden Games title, having been denied by Van der Burgh at Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018.
Peaty clocked 26.76 with Sam Williamson of Australia second in 26.97 and Scotland’s Ross Murdoch third in 27.32.
Houlie managed 27.36, but his heat time of 27.10 would have got him on to the podium.