Schoenmaker & Sates Blocked From Global Titles Hunt By South Africa’s Omnicron-COVID Travel Ban

2021-12-15 Reading Time: 2 minutes
Tatjana Schoenmaker, of South Africa, realises "it's gold!" in the 200m breaststroke at the Tokyo 202One Olympic Games - by Patrick B. Kraemer

Olympic champion Tatjana Schoenmaker and newly crowned World Cup series winner Matthew Sates are among those forced to miss the World Short-Course Championships, which get underway in Abu Dhabi tomorrow, because of a South African travel ban imposed to control the spread of the new Omnicron variant of COVID-19.

Only four South Africans will race at the winter showcase aquatics event that has attracted a solid entry but is being bypassed by a shoal of Olympic and World champions opting to focus on other targets at a time of pandemic challenges.

A team of 21 South African swimmers was originally set to compete in the UAE but only the four already based overseas will now make the trip.

The latest twist in the COVID pandemic will deprive the championships of two title contenders. Schoenmaker, who claimed gold in the 200m breaststroke and silver in the 100m in Tokyo back in the summer, would have challenged for medals in all three breaststroke events in Abu Dhabi. Schoenmaker was the first African woman to claim Olympic breaststroke gold since Penny Heyns took the double for South Africa at Atlanta 1996.

On the strength of form and progress shown on World Cup tour this autumn, Sates would have been one to watch as a prospective medal winner in numerous events on freestyle and medley.

Spearheading the reduced South African squad, ten-time short course world champion and 2012 Olympic 200m butterfly champion Chad le Clos, on the comeback trail after a knee injury, will challenge for honours in the 100 and 200m freestyle as well as the 50, 100 and 200m butterfly.

Today, his thoughts were with those who will miss the championships. Le Clos said:

“I’m gutted that the team couldn’t come out. For a lot of these young swimmers, this opportunity would have been massive for them to compete and get the experience. I definitely feel for Matthew Sates. After having a phenomenal year, he could definitely have picked up some medals here.

“I’m also sad that my parents couldn’t be here to watch. All round this travel ban has hit us really hard. I was really lucky to be in Europe at this time – otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go either.”

Chad Le Clos – image by Patrick B. Kraemer

On his own campaign, Le Clos added: “I wouldn’t say I’m fully fit, but I’m as good as I can be. I don’t like to make excuses. After having a small tear in my knee just six weeks ago, I think I’ve come a long way. Six or seven weeks ago we didn’t think we’d even be able to make it this far so just to be here is a blessing.

“If I can nick a medal, a little bronze, I’d be over the moon – considering the year that I’ve had.
“I’m just really happy to be here and represent my country, represent my family and my fans. Shout out to everyone back home who is supporting me and the team – the four of us – a very small team. Let’s show the world that South Africans are as tough and resilient as we are and fight through all the adversity we’ve had this year.”

The other South Africans competing in Abu Dhabi are 2018 world short course bronze medallist Brad Tandy (50m free and ‘fly), Tayla Lovemore (50 and 100m ‘fly), both based in the USA, and Michaela Pulford (200, 400 and 800m free), who is based in Australia.

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