Day 1 is in the books from Port Elizabeth, South Africa at the 2011 Telkom SA National Championships, and in 4 individual finals, 18-year old Chad le Clos emerged as the only qualifier for the 2011 FINA World Championship qualifier.
Le Clos, only 18 years old, made huge strides in 2010 at both the inaugural Youth Olympic Games and the Short Course World Championships, though his times haven’t emerged quite as strongly in long course as they have short. Today, he posted a 1:57.20 to win, which ranks him 15th in the world this season. The rank isn’t spectacular, but the way he raced was. He roared from behind, a second back at the final turn, to surpass runner-up Sebastian Rousseau on the final length. Rousseau’s final time of 1:57.95 was just three-tenths off of the FINA automatic qualifying time.
That final 50 meters for le Clos stood at 29.68 seconds. In comparison, Michael Phelps closed his 2010 world-best swim a second slower: 30.80. This shows that le Clos, while he may or may not medal in Shanghai, is on perfect track for a teenager. He has the strength and endurance (very similarly to one Mr. Phelps) to finish races at a very young age, and as he continues to mature, that front-end speed should improve to match it. The result could be a medal in 2012, and should be a heavy favorite in 2016.
The only other swimmer to flirt with a FINA automatic qualifying time was Kathryn Meaklim in the 200 IM. Meaklim, who holds all of the South African National IM Records aside from the short course 100, won the event in 2:15.37, which is exactly one-tenth off of the ascribed FINA automatic-qualifying standard.
In semi-final action, there was another swimmer who posted a FINA qualifying standard: 16-year old Vanessa Mohr in the women’s 50 fly. She will need to equal or better her mark of 26.68 in tomorrow’s finals to officially earn her invite to Shanghai.
Suzaan van Biljon, who we highlighted last week for her comeback attempt, made her first splash of this race in the 50 breaststroke, which she is particularly good at. She has the top seed of 32.40, but will need to drop that mark in the finals to clear the 31.52 World Championships qualifying mark. While London is her ultimate goal, achieving a FINA World Championship qualifying time after only 3-months back in the water would be an astonishing achievement.
Herman Heerden, who ranks in the top 20 in the world in the 400 free this year, only barely beat his best mark from January, leaving him disappointingly out of qualifying for Shanghai thus far. He will, however, be able to notch the National Championship to his belt.
In relay action, there were some fine splits put up by the South African men, including Gideon Luow splitting a 49.46 and Darian Townsend anchoring in a 49.18. Those swims will be important for two men who will be battling for relay spots for Shanghai.