2022 Commonwealth Games Previews: South African Showdowns in Women’s Breaststroke


  • Friday, July 29 – Wednesday, August 3, 2022
  • Birmingham, England
  • Sandwell Aquatic Center
  • Start Times
    • Prelims: 10:30 am local / 5:30 am ET
    • Finals: 7:00 pm local / 2:00 pm ET
  • LCM (50m)
  • Meet Central
  • Event Schedule
  • Entry List

Much like the Australian women in freestyle, the South African women are dominant in the breaststroke discipline. 

Lara van Niekerk is the Commonwealth record holder and Worlds bronze medalist in the 50, while Tatjana Schoenmaker is the world record holder in the 200 breast. They are expected to win their respective best events, and meet at the middle in the 100 breast. While Schoenmaker won Olympic silver in the 100 breast last year and has the faster best time, van Niekerk beat her at trials this year and holds the #1 time in the Commonwealth year, making for a very interesting battle.

Also be on the lookout for Kaylene Corbett, another South African that will be in contention for medals in the breaststroke events, especially the 200 where she finished fifth at the Olympics last year.

50 Breaststroke

  • Commonwealth Record: Lara van Niekerk, South Africa — 29.72 (2022)
  • Commonwealth Games Record: Alia Atkinson, Jamaica — 30.17 (2014)
  • 2018 Commonwealth Champion: Sarah Vassey, England — 30.60

It’s hard not to see Lara van Niekerk winning the 50 breast at this meet. She’s already the fastest Commonwealth swimmer of all time in the event with her 29.72 time from the South African Championships, and later proved that her swim there wasn’t a fluke when she went 29.90 to take bronze at Worlds (although she swam a 29.77 in prelims). As the only woman from the Commonwealth that’s been sub-30 before, it will take a major upset to beat Van Niekerk at this meet.

If van Niekerk ends up losing, Australia’s Chelsea Hodges could potentially be the one pulling off the upset. We know that Hodges has thrived under pressure before, such as when she dropped a clutch 1:05.67 split on the women’s medley relay at the Olympics, staying right on Olympic champ Lydia Jacoby and helping her country win gold. This year, despite breaking the Australian record in the 50 breast at trials in a time of 30.15, she was denied an opportunity to compete at Worlds due to the 50 stroke races not being selection events. The Commonwealth Games gives Hodges a shot at breaking her own national record and chasing down the Commonwealth record holder as well.

Another national record holder who didn’t get to compete at Worlds due to selection procedure is England’s Imogen Clark. She won the 50 breast at trials this year in a time of 30.10, just 0.06 seconds off her British record time of 30.04 set in 2018 and her second-fastest performance ever. Clark has the misfortune of being the strongest in a 50 stroke event, so she hasn’t had many chances to compete at big meets. The Commonwealth Games will be an opportunity for her to win her first international hardware since the 2018 European Championships.

We picked Clark for second over Hodges because she has a higher ceiling and more experience racing the 50 internationally, but it’s going to be a very tight race between the two of them. 

Australia’s Jenna Strauch and South Africa’s Schoenmaker are both the strongest in the 200 breast, but are two out of the five women in the 50 breast with sub-31 second times. Strauch’s season-best is a 30.82 while Shoemaker’s is a 30.87, although they both share the same lifetime best of 30.82. 

SwimSwam’s Predictions:

Ranking Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Lara Van Niekerk South Africa 29.72 29.72
2 Imogen Clark England 30.10 30.04
3 Chelsea Hodges Australia 30.15 30.15
4 Tatjana Schoenmaker South Africa 30.87 30.82
5 Jenna Strauch Australia 30.82 30.82

100 Breaststroke

  • Commonwealth Record: Tatjana Shoenmaker, South Africa — 1:04.82 (2021)
  • Commonwealth Games Record: Leisel Jones, Australia – 1:05.09 (2006)
  • 2018 Commonwealth Champion: Tatjana Shoenmaker, South Africa — 1:06.41 

The women’s 100 breast race will be the biggest toss-up out of all the events highlighted in this article. Coming into this year, Schoenmaker was the easy favorite to win this event, given that her best time of 1:04.82 is the Commonwealth record and she’s also the defending Commonwealth champion and Olympic silver medalist.

However, at the South African Championships in April, Lara van Niekerk pulled off an upset against Schoenmaker, clocking a time 1:05.67 while Shoenmaker was well off her best time and went 1:06.06. 

Van Niekerk went on to miss the final of the 100 breast at Worlds, finishing 13th in a time of 1:06.75. This could indicate two things: either that South Africa was more focused on Commonwealth Games or that Van Niekerk is just simply better in shorter distances like the 50. Schoenmaker on the other hand bypassed Worlds, so we have no idea what her form is like coming into Commonwealths.

Schoenmaker is our pick to win based on her past success, but the possibility for van Niekerk to break out and pull off an upset isn’t all that unlikely either.

Watch out for the Australian trio of Jenna Strauch, Abbey Harkin, and Chelsea Hodges, who finished 1-2-3 at trials this year.

Hodges has the fastest personal best out of the three at 1:05.99, but is ranked the lowest this year with her trials time of 1:06.94. Based on the fact that she’s not listed on the entry list for the medley relay lineups, it’s reasonable to assume that she doesn’t have the same 100 speed that she did last year. Then there’s Harkin, who went 1:06.88 at trials but then added to go 1:08.12 at worlds, failing to make it out of prelims.

So that leaves Strauch, who we predict will finish the highest out of the three Aussies. After winning the 100 breast at trials, she went on to set a best time of 1:06.16 at worlds (ranked third in the Commonwealth) and split 1:05.99 to help her country win silver on the 4×100 medley relay. She’s put up great performances so far this year, so it’s fair to conclude that they are only going to continue at Commonwealths.

Don’t forget about England’s Molly Renshaw, who’s ranked fourth in the Commonwealth with her season-best time of 1:06.39. She’s better in the 200 than she is in the shorter distances, but she’s a consistent 1:06-point swimmer with a PB of 1:06.21, so she should make her way into the top five for the 100 as well.

SwimSwam’s Predictions:

Ranking Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Tatjana Schoenmaker South Africa 1:06.06 1:04.82
2 Lara Van Niekerk South Africa 1:05.67 1:05.67
3 Jenna Strauch Australia 1:06.16 1:06.16
4 Chelsea Hodges Australia 1:06.94 1:05.99
5 Molly Renshaw England 1:06.39 1:06.21

200 Breaststroke

  • Commonwealth Record: Tatjana Shoenmaker, South Africa — 2:18.95 (2021)
  • Commonwealth Games Record: Leisel Jones, Australia – 2:20.72 (2006)
  • 2018 Commonwealth Champion: Tatjana Shoenmaker, South Africa — 2:22.02 

Let’s start off with the obvious favorite to win here — Tatjana Schoenmaker. She’s the world record holder, and although her season-best time is only a 2:24.01, it’s hard to bet against the fastest woman ever who just set a world record last year.

Then there’s a cluster of women behind Schoenmaker who are fighting for the minor medals. Molly Renshaw has been the fastest out of all of them, holding a best time of 2:20.89. That was set back last year during the British Olympic trials, and she was well off that time at both the Olympics and World Championships, most recently finishing sixth at worlds in a time of 2:23.92.

Renshaw’s teammate, Abbie Wood, comes in with a personal best of 2:21.69, also from the 2021 British Olympic trials. Wood suffered mono at World Championships, finishing in eighth in the 200 breast final in a time of 2:26.19. Because of her recent illness, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if she was a little bit off at Commonwealths as well.

Our choices to join Schoenmaker alongside the medal stand as Australia’s Jenna Strauch and South Africa’s Kaylene Corbett. Strauch has been having a breakout year in both the 100 and 200 breast, taking home individual silver in the 200 and setting a lifetime best of 2:22.22 in the semis. She’s in the best shape out of any of the women mentioned in this event, so she’s a safe bet for silver. 

Corbett finished second at her trials this year in a season-best time of 2:24.66, and has been as fast as 2:22.06 before when she placed fifth at the Tokyo Olympics. She too skipped the World Championships, so we will get a sense of where her performances are at this season come time for the Commonwealth Games.

A “dark horse” in this event is Australia’s Taylor McKeown, a long-time veteran of the sport. She qualified with her trials time of 2:25.32, but has a best time of 2:21.69 dating all the way back to 2016. McKeown hasn’t been near that time in years and is competing in her first major international meet since 2018, but be on the lookout to see whether she can regain at least some of her old form from before.

SwimSwam’s Predictions:

Ranking Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Tatjana Schoenmaker South Africa 2:24.01 2:18.95
2 Jenna Strauch Australia 2:22.22 2:22.22
3 Kaylene Corbett South Africa 2:24.66 2:22.06
4 Molly Renshaw England 2:23.92 2:20.89
5 Abbie Wood England 2:24.28 2:21.69

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of

oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Hard to bet against a RSA sweep of women’s BRS gold.

Can go along with SS’s predicted podium for 50 although I think Schoenmaker could be very much a spoiler.

Hard to bet against Schoenmaker winning 100 but Van Niekerk’s 100 was not impressive in Budapest. The lower steps of that podium has the makings of a classic cat-fight between Van Niekerk, the two Australians and Renshaw.

Near identical script looks to be in play at 200, albeit Van Niekerk subbed out by Corbett, only one Australian (Strauch) and the addition of Wood.

1 year ago

South Africa do have some great women in breaststroke but I don’t think its quite the direct comparison to the dominance of Aussie women in freestyle just in terms of depth because Aus could genuinely get 1,2,3 in the 50/100/200/800 and a 1,3,4 in the 400 but could’ve worked if Oleksiak was competing and Mcintosh opted for the 200 free over the 400im

1 year ago

I think Schoenmaker’s 50 PB is the opening split (30.21) from her 100 PB from Tokyo so she should be able to contend for gold if she’s in that kind of form.

About Yanyan Li

Yanyan Li

Although Yanyan wasn't the greatest competitive swimmer, she learned more about the sport of swimming by being her high school swim team's manager for four years. She eventually ventured into the realm of writing and joined SwimSwam in January 2022, where she hopes to contribute to and learn more about …

Read More »