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Suzaan’s Turkish delight

By Mark Etheridge

Beijing Olympian Suzaan van Biljon may have taken a two-year hiatus from the pool but she’s come back stronger and faster and has sealed the last leg of the stringent qualifying criteria to represent Team South Africa at the London Olympics later this year.

Her time of 2min 26.85sec in Turkey recently saw her beating the Olympic A standard of 2min 26.88sec for the 200-metre breaststroke. That might have been cutting it fine (by just 0.03sec) but she’d already swum times of 2:25.88 and 2:26.74 at the national championships in Durban last month.

Her local and international qualifying times plus the fact that she achieved a qualifying time at national champs would seem to have rubber-stamped her place on Team SA.

Van Biljon’s mom and dad (Mariette and Peet) were on hand to see her clock that first qualifying time in Durban. “The whole Absa stadium were cheering her on in the semi-final… stroke by stroke,” says a proud Mariette. “I have never heard anything like that in my whole life!! I did not even watch the last 50 metres!┬áShe said that she has nothing to lose, and just went for it!!! She has unreal big match temperament. Me and my husband both cried… ”

Bloemfontein born and bred, Van Biljon moved to Durban after her post Olympics two-year chill period but has since moved up to Pretoria where she trains under Igor Omeltchenko who was with her in Turkey.

“I’m ecstatic about qualifying and meeting the criteria,” she told Road to London 2012. “I honestly didn’t have the slightest bit of expectation on doing the qualifying time. So it still seems a little surreal,” grinned the 24-year-old.

The bizarre thing about Van Biljon’s Olympic quest is that she had been focusing her training for the last three months on the 100m breaststroke but failed to nail that qualifying time in Durban (although she won all three breaststroke events). But her and the coach realised she still had a chance in the 200m. It was then that her big match temperament came to the fore and she swam the first of her qualifying times.

“I mean I only started swimming about 16 months ago and making the Olympics was always an afterthought, all I wanted was to enjoy my swimming this time round so I’m incredibly blessed!”

But the Turkish long-course championships weren’t without their complications. She says: “The competition in Turkey? Well that was something, I totally lost my feel for my stroke when I arrived in Istanbul and my body took quite a beating on the flight there so I wasn’t in a very good condition.

“Coach Igor and I both knew I was not looking so great in the water and we knew it would be really tough.”

Her solution, she just put herself in the hands of fate. “During my warm-up for the 200m breast I made peace with the race that was about to come, that whatever happens must just happen (something my boyfriend Shaun had told me earlier that day).”

On to the actual race she was still not holding out much hope. “During my race I was convinced I was not going to do the time, I was hurting and my technique felt terrible but I tried as hard as I could. I touched the wall and took a few seconds before I looked at the time board and then when I saw the 2.26.85… I was shaking my head, thinking… ‘that’s not possible’.

“My coach was so happy, me too… both relieved and amazed that I would have another opportunity to go to the Olympics.”

Van Biljon was still down to swim the 100m breaststroke at the competition but pulled out. “I only swam the 200m as my coach said ‘the work is done and now you can relax’ so no 100m and we had three wonderful days in Istanbul.”

Her next and far bigger dream no doubt will be to have a few wonderful days in the Olympic Pool in London later this year.


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