Being back in Olympic standard pool was ’a shock to the system’ for SA swimmers

CAPE TOWN – Rocco Meiring, one of the world’s foremost swimming coaches, says there is no margin for error as he prepares Olympic hopefuls Tatjana Schoenmaker and Kaylene Corbett for next year’s Tokyo Games.

A former African Swimming Coach award winner, Meiring has over the past two decades coached numerous swimmers who have been capped for South Africa’s Olympic teams. Presently, world-class breaststrokers Schoenmaker and Corbett are under his tutelage.

However, Meiring says nowadays coaching has been hugely challenging because of the sweeping restrictions following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Swimming like other sports has been on hold since mid-March.

“We’ve never been here before – this is uncharted territory,” said Meiring about the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the virus.

“There is not much time to prepare for the Olympics and there is no margin for error.

“If you don’t get it right, there could be injuries or sickness, and our swimmers won’t be ready.”

Meiring heads up TuksSwimming and Schoenmaker and Corbett count among the elite swimmers there.

With the easing of restrictions, swimmers have been allowed to train in a pool but they cannot do gym work.

Training in the pool and gym work are the building blocks in the making of Olympians and Meiring says there must be a balance of these two elements. Without that balance, it will never be known how swimmers will respond to high-intensity training.

“I have decided that Schoenmaker and Corbett will be on a ‘train to train’ programme. It is like starting from scratch,” said Meiring. “This will help condition their bodies and be capable of starting to train again.

“If nothing unforeseen happens, they might start working on speed endurance by January. It leaves us with about eight weeks to get them to peak for the Olympic trials (SA Championships).”

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Kaylene Corbett during the 2017 South Africa National Aquatic Championships. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix

Meiring shed some light on the need for the ‘train to train’ programme.

“In the past, the longest time they had a complete break from swimming was two weeks,” he said.

“In extraordinary circumstances, it might have been three weeks. Now being back in an Olympic standard pool (50 metres) was a shock to their systems.

“In the ‘train to train’ programme they should get to a stage where their bodies are ‘begging’ to do more. Only then can we go onto the next phase. That will be to improve their endurance.”

In the absence of gym work, there is a significant risk of them losing muscle mass. Training schedules must be accurate otherwise, injury or sickness may result.

“The last thing I want is for one of them to get injured or sick, especially in these uncertain times,” said Meiring.

“If they become sick, their immune system will be weakened. That will make them vulnerable to the virus. From what I have read that could mean the end of any sports career.”

Schoenmaker will be one of SA’s premier Olympic medal hopes next year. Last year she won a silver medal in the 200m breaststroke at the World Championships. She bagged two golds at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Last year Corbett qualified for the Tokyo Olympics after clocking 2:24.18 for the 200m breaststroke. She finished eighth at the 2019 World Championships in Korea. In recent months she has shown steady improvement and is one for the future on the world stage.


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