Chad Le Clos needed his underwater skills to down Zane Waddell in their 100m freestyle duel at the SA short-course championships in Durban on Thursday night.
Alabama-based student Waddell had the edge when they battled stroke-for-stroke on the surface during the first 50 metres‚ but the nation’s most decorated Olympian took the race into deep waters to claim the victory.
Le Clos’s underwater swimming following the dive and then after each of the three turns was superior and earned him a commanding lead in the end as he came home in 46.45sec.
Waddell was more than a second slower in 47.54‚ but it was still inside the qualifying mark for the world short course championships in China in early December.
Six swimmers — three men and three women — made qualifying times on the opening night of the gala‚ staged over 25 metres‚ half the traditional Olympic distance.
Commonwealth Games breaststroke queen Tatjana Schoenmaker cracked a massive 2min 18.93sec personal best as she pulled Emily Visagie (2:23.03) to a qualifying time in the 200m breaststroke.
And Erin Gallagher broke her own SA record as she booked her spot in the 100m freestyle while Ayrton Sweeney squeezed in by two-hundredths of a second in the men’s 200m breaststroke.
Le Clos‚ who had offered to pay for Waddell to travel to Australia to get him to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Australia earlier this year‚ said he had doubts going into the final.
“I was actually quite nervous before the race‚” Le Clos admitted.
But Waddell‚ a management information systems student‚ wasn’t disappointed with the result. “His [Le Clos’s] underwaters are incredible.
“When I first started swimming in the US my underwaters were non-existent. I’ve been working on them with [coach] Jonty Skinner.”
Skinner is a former South African swimmer who held the 50m and 100m freestyle world records in the 1970s.
Gallagher was chuffed with her 53.34. “I’m really over the moon. Coming into the gala I wasn’t expecting much‚” she said‚ adding she had struggled with illness that had hampered her training.
“But I think being sick was a blessing in disguise because it took the pressure off.”
Schoenmaker‚ who isn’t planning on competing in China‚ was elated for Visagie‚ hugging her moments after she had touched the wall. “I’m so stoked for Emily.”
Sweeney took a while to realise he had cracked the qualifying time‚ letting out a whoop quite some time after finishing.
“I didn’t hear the announcer say anything and I couldn’t see if I’d made it‚” he said after clocking 2:06.81.
But he too is on the boat to China.
The gala runs until Sunday.