WR s/c: Schoeman 20.64 50m Free
Craig Lord
South African federation tries to solve problems in its team as one of those at the heart of the troubles sets a short-course world record


Roland Schoeman, the South African sprinter who endured a disappointing Olympic Games amid trouble at the heart of the national team, has broken the world short-course record in the 50m freestyle. The time: 20.64.  The place: the SA Short Course Championships, at the Delville Swimming Pool in Germiston.

The standard had stood at 20.81 to Duje Draganja since the Croatian lifted the world short-course title by a wide margin at Manchester in April.

"Having missed the world record by one hundredth of a second in the semi-final the night before, I knew I had a chance, but even though I had a rest by not swimming in the morning session, people are always asking if I was able to really break the world record today, so it is always on one's mind," Schoeman said in a federation press release. "I felt that I was reaching on my last arm length, but other than that I was happy with my swim." 

That was not the only news from his federation. In a statement, the governing body said: "Swimming SA management and its Olympic team members have agreed to work together in the interest of the sport, in a bid to provide the best planning and infrastructure for the country’s four-year campaign leading up to the 2012 Olympics, according to an official release from the federation.

"Following a 90 minute meeting in Germiston today which was chaired by Swimming SA President Jace Naidoo, the Olympic swimmers voiced their concerns over several issues with regard to the team’s preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

"The meeting agreed that an Athletes Commission, to be headed by a former national team swimmer, should be put in place which will in future voice the concerns of the swimmers to the Swimming SA management.

The swimmers requested Swimming SA to sort out monthly payment issues as part of their Olympic build up programme, with the federation agreeing to discuss this matter with the providers of the financial support.

"Other requests put forward by the swimmers and which will be favourably considered by Swimming SA, include increasing the number of international swimming galas abroad in the period of 12 to 24 months prior to the Olympics, the use of more sports science testing-related programmes to monitor the training programmes of the swimmers, and the use of a sports psychologist to assist with the mental preparations of the athletes."

And all of that stemmed from a welter of reports about deep-rooted problems in the South Africa camp. One report in South Africa stated:

"South African sporting authorities left Natalie du Toit badly in the
lurch only hours before her historic Olympic debut. In addition they allegedly:


  • Refused to find her accommodation near her competition venue.

  • Screamed at her and her coach when they asked for the help of a
translator of the South African Sport Confederation and Olympic
Committee (Sascoc).

  • Forced her to wear a sponsor's shoes with uncomfortable heels even
though she couldn't walk with them due to her disability.


Beyond Du Toit's problems with her national OLympic committee representatives, the troubles between the US-based swimmers and some formerly based in the US and the team captain Gerhard Zandberg and head coach Dirk Lange continue to play large in the national media at the tip of Africa.

Ryk Neethling was reported as saying that the tensions in the swimming team extended to a threat of physical violence. Neethling told how he had to break up a fight between Zandberg and Schoeman. Neethling claims to have tried to make peace but said that he then feared being hit by Lange. 

Neethling said that he would leave South African swimming if Lange did not.  He was quoted as saying: "It reached an absolute low point at the Olympic training camp in South Korea before the Games. It was so bad that Lange and I did not speak a single word to one another at the Games."

No mention of any of that in the official statement of the federation. No mention of any individuals.

The struggle for a lasting new direction in South Africa - one that will lead to improvement in the national team (as opposed to the improvements of a small number of individuals) continues. In Beijing, we saw some of the results of the good work that is to be found in South Africa. We sensed the schism too. There is room for a national programme and the development of individuals who work beyond that but if the individuals do not understand the need for a common approach when it comes to the biggest of occasions - no coincidence that the USA, AUS, GBR, JPN led the way in Beijing, on numbers of finalists and gold medals - and if the culture of team and individual are too far apart, then South Africa will continue to fall well shy of its tremendous potential.