Tatjana Smith reclaims top spot in 200m breaststroke world rankings

Tatjana Smith on her way to victory in the 200m breaststroke at the national championships in Gqeberha on Wednesday evening.
Tatjana Smith on her way to victory in the 200m breaststroke at the national championships in Gqeberha on Wednesday evening.
Image: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images

Tatjana Smith stormed to the top of the world as she produced the second-best 200m breaststroke swim of her career at the national Olympic trials in Gqeberha on Wednesday night.

She sailed across the Newton Park pool in 2min 19.01sec, just six-hundredths of a second short of the world record blitz she unleashed when winning Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020.

In the morning heats on Wednesday she went 2:19.92 but her evening performance pushed her to No 1 on the world rankings for 2024 so far, above American Kate Douglass (2:19.30) and Holland’s Tes Schouten (2:19.81).

In fact it’s the third-fastest swim of all time, behind the 2:17.55 world record set by Russian teen Evgeniia Chikunova last year and her own 2:18.95 from the Games.

Touching in second place was her Tuks training partner Kaylene Corbett in 2:23.71, which was also inside the 2:23.91 qualifying standard for the Paris Games which kick off on July 27.

Smith and Corbett were the first two swimmers at the national championships to achieve qualifying standards.

Pieter Coetzé followed later in the evening as he won the men’s 200m backstroke in 1:55.85, improving on the 1:55.99 best from February, though he remains third on the 2024 world rankings.

Smith, Corbett and Coetzé were among eight swimmers who had already knocked off selection times in the qualifying window that opened on March 1 last year.

Smith was elated with her two speedy swims on the day. “I think I can’t really grasp the concept,” the newly married 26-year-old said. “I’m actually splits away from my PB [personal best] ...

“I’m just grateful to be back on my times and feeling myself in the water. I think I was really struggling to find my rhythm in the water and I really think that I’ve gotten it now.”

One good omen she mentioned was how she had swum personal bests at the 2021 trials in the build-up to Tokyo, and was now swimming personal bests months out from the Paris showpiece. She posted her best time in the 50m breaststroke, a non-Olympic event, at the start of the week.

“I think it gives a bit of confidence. You always want to do well in the nationals. I’ve never really PB’d at nationals, but now the 2021 trials I PB’d and this one I PB’d. I’m very grateful, but normally I never come close to my time. So it is a bit of a confidence boost.”

Many top swimming nations will start their national championships soon. 

“I’m excited to see what they do.”

Corbett, who also qualified in the morning heats, edged into the top eight in the world, suggesting she’s ready to make another Olympic final.

She ended fifth in Tokyo in 2:22.06 and also took bronze behind Smith at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“I would have enjoyed to go like a little bit faster,” she said, admitting she’d like to make the Paris final. “After that we will see what happens in the final.”

Coetzé believed he had plenty more speed to uncover before the Games. “I’m still learning how to pace it. It’s a tough thing because there’s so many different ways you can do it.

“Some people will take it out very fast and just try to hold on, and other people, including myself normally, I try to save a little bit for the last 100 or the last 50. So I’ve been trying different things and I’ll find what works for me and by the time Paris comes around I’ll have my strategy mapped out.”

He also needs to work on his turns and underwater work. “That’s definitely still a weakness. I’ve been trying in training to work on it ... for the past year I’ve been working on it so towards Paris I believe it will keep picking up.”

US-based Aimee Canny narrowly missed out on a qualifying time in the women’s 200m freestyle as she finished in a 1:57.39 best.

The qualifying standard is 1:57.26.

“I’m just a little sad right now,” she said, adding she might consider asking to do a time trial to try find another 0.13 sec.

In other action Matthew Sates won the men’s 200m freestyle in 1:48.82, Matthew Randle was first in the men’s 200m breaststroke in 2:14.01 and Hannah Pearse won the women’s 200m backstroke in 2:12.19.


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