South African star Zane Waddell has announced his retirement from competitive swimming at the age of 22, according to South African news reports. Waddell won gold in the 50m backstroke at last year’s World Championships, and was recognized for his achievements with a 2019 Swammy Award for African Male Swimmer of the Year.
In an interview with OFM Sport in South Africa, Waddell explained that his decision was largely financial, as Swimming South Africa did not provide any funding after the 2019 World Championships, and Covid-19 exacerbated matters. Swimming South Africa has long had financial issues, with those concerns at times threatening athletes’ participation in major international events.
A native of Blomfontein, South Africa, Waddell first made international headlines when he earned gold medals in three of the four 50m events at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games. Shortly thereafter, he announced he would be heading to the United States for college, where he’d swim at the University of Alabama, whose coaching staff then included former South African swimmer Jonty Skinner.
Waddell made an immediate impact for the Crimson Tide as a sprint backstroker and freestyler. As a freshman, he led off the Alabama 200 medley relay squad that took 2nd at the 2017 NCAA Championships. In a total of three NCAA Championships, Waddell scored in the 50 free, 100 free, and 100 back, and was part of several scoring relays, including the 2019 team that won the 200 medley relay, with his 20.41 leadoff being the fastest in the field.
Waddell was in peak form for the 2020 SEC Championships. He led off Alabama’s winning 200 medley relay in 20.33, the 3rd-fastest time ever. He also put up a 19.07 in the 50 free to take the win, won the 100 back in 44.24, and then led off the 400 medley relay in 44.10 en route to another title. He also took 2nd in the 100 free (41.82) and was part of tittle-winning 200 free and 400 free relays. All told, Waddell looked like he should have been in the mix for three individual A-finals and several A-final relays had the 2020 NCAA Championships happened.
Internationally, Waddell swam the 50 free at the 2017 World Championships, placing 45th in prelims. But, two years later he captured the gold medal in the 50m back at the 2019 World Championships, finishing 0.06s ahead of a field that included Russian stars Evgeny Rylov and Kliment Kolesnikov, as well as Olympic gold medalist Ryan Murphy.
According to a recent interview, Waddell had been training in Tuscaloosa throughout the pandemic and into this fall. He was listed as part of the LA Current’s roster for this season of the International Swim League, but did not compete.