Lara van Niekerk and Pieter Coetze Make South African History on Friday


A pair of rising South African teenage star swimmers won the country’s first men’s and women’s medals of the 2022 Commonwealth Games on Friday evening, but neither was the one that most of the swimming world has their eyes on.

19-year old Lara van Niekerk and 18-year old Pieter Coetze each made history on Friday evening. Not only were those medals their country’s first of these Commonwealth Games, both were the first medals of any flavor that South Africa has won in their respective events at the Commonwealth Games.

First, Van Niekerk won the 50 breaststroke in a new Games Record of 29.73. That was the first medal a South African woman had ever won in the 50 breaststroke at these Games – which comes as a bit of a surprise given the great 100 and 200 breaststrokers they’ve had in swimmers like Penny Heyns and Tatjana Schoenmaker, plus the best male 50 breaststroker the Games have seen, Cameron van der Burgh.

But Heyns retired before the 50 breaststroke was added to the meet in 2002, and in 2018 when Schoenmaker swept the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, she was only 4th in the 50.

Van Niekerk’s time was just .01 seconds short of her personal best, African Record, and Commonwealth Record of 29.72 from the South African Championships in April.

Not long after, it was Coetze who broke the ice for South Africa, winning the men’s 100 backstroke in a time of 53.78.

While South African men have won medals in the 50 backstroke (Gerhard Zanderg took bronze in 2002 and 2006) and 200 backstroke (George Du Rand took silver in 2006), they had never before won a medal in this 100 backstroke.

After missing the World Championships in June with a case of COVID-19, Coetze bounced back quickly to win gold in Birmingham. The African Record in that race belongs to Chris Reid, who swam 53.12 in 2016.

Along with other young names like 19-year old Matt Sates and 25-year old World Record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker, it seems that South Africa has finally found its next generation of stars as swimmers like 30-year old Chad le Clos move into the later stages of their careers.

Medal-less events remaining for South Africa (non-Para events)

This leaves 12 events in the 38 event non-para swimming schedule at the Commonwealth Games where South Africa doesn’t have a medal.

  • Women’s 50 free
  • Women’s 200 free
  • Women’s 400 free
  • Women’s 50 back
  • Women’s 100 back
  • Women’s 200 back
  • Women’s 200 fly
  • Women’s 400 free relay
  • Women’s 800 free relay
  • Men’s 50 free
  • Men’s 100 free
  • Men’s 400 free

All of this history comes under the context of South Africa not competing at the Games from 1962 through 1990 because of the country’s apartheid policy. That policy likely prevented at least one of these events from being filled: Jonty Skinner set a World Record in both the 50 free and 100 free in 1976, but was barred from competing at the 1974 or 1978 Commonwealth Games.

Pieter Coetze race video:

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About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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