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4x100m relay team roar into final

Roland Schoeman and Darian Townsend will never forget the day eight years ago that they swam in a world record 4x100m freestyle relay performance that slayed the giants and earned South Africa Olympic gold in Athens. On Sunday night the two veterans will be back in action in an attempt to relive those glories at London 2012, writes Gary Lemke.

Schoeman, as he did eight years ago, led off the South African 4x100m team in Sunday morning’s heats, touching in 49.00 to hand over to Townsend, who took to the water in third place behind Canada and France. He had a fast start and reached 150m first, putting the South Africans in a strong position. However, coming back Townsend was caught and gave way to Gideon Louw, third off the blocks. Showing good form, Louw clawed South Africa back into second and that’s where they stayed, behind France, after Graeme Moore closed out the quartet.

While France touched first in 3min 13.38sec, the South Africans were comfortable in 3:13.93, and that was always going to be enough to qualify them for the final.

Hopes of a repeat of the Athens heroics though should be tempered; heat two was an altogether faster one in which odds-on favourites for the gold, Australia, raced home in 3:12.29, ahead of the United States and an impressive Russia. South Africa were seventh fastest overall and while outsiders tonight, the old adage of anything can happen once one gets into a final, will apply.

‘Not a bad morning prelim for the SA 4 x 100 free relay team. Cobwebs are def out, time to go off tonight!’ Townsend tweeted after the event.

Elsewhere, three South Africans were in action on a day that may well end in the country’s first medal, with Cameron van der Burgh taking to the water in the final of the men’s 100m breaststroke, having broken the Olympic record in setting the fastest qualifying time in the semi-finals.

Charl Crous (men’s 100m backstroke) and Wendy Trott (women’s 400m freestyle) both failed to beat anyone home in their respective heats, but there was more joy for Suzann van Biljon, second in her 100m breaststroke heat in a tidy 1:07.54, which saw her go into tonight’s semi-finals as the 12th-ranked swimmer.

A name from the past was Sarah Poewe, the former South African from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and now competing for Germany. She looked in form in qualifying seventh fastest overall and will be hopeful of being able to reach the final when she returns to the pool tonight.

All eyes will be on Van der Burgh though. After lowering the Olympic record to 58.83, he is now in a strong position to win a medal and dare we whisper it, gold. One rival who thinks it’s the South African’s race to lose is the Italian who was second fastest overall last night, Fabio Scozzoli.

‘I think I might get second place. I don’t see myself doing a 58.80,’ he said, adding that the pre-event favourite and the defending Olympic champion, Kosuke Katajima, ‘didn’t seem to be in good shape in the heats’.


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