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Covid-19 travel restrictions denies SA swimmers a shot at World Short Course Championships

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Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa celebrates with Lilly King of the United States, Annie Lazor of the United States and Kaylene Corbett of South Africa after setting a new World record. Picture: Reuters, Carl Recine

The Covid-induced travel ban imposed on the country has meant that both Olympic champion Tatjana Schoenmaker and World Cup series winner Matt Sates are among those unable to travel to compete in Abu Dhabi.

CAPE TOWN – South Africa will be represented by a team of just four swimmers at the World Short Course Championships in Abu Dhabi from 16 to 21 December.

The Covid-induced travel ban imposed on the country because of the new Omicron variant has meant that both Olympic champion Tatjana Schoenmaker and newly-crowned World Cup series winner Matt Sates are among those unable to travel to the UAE capital to compete.

A team of 21 South African swimmers was originally set to compete at the Championships, but this has been reduced to just four athletes, who were outside of the country at the time when the ban was implemented.

ALSO READ: Gold! Tatjana Schoenmaker sets new world record in Tokyo

Spearheading the team is 10-time short course world champion Chad le Clos, who is still on the comeback trail after a knee injury.

The former Olympic champion has been entered in the 100 and 200m freestyle as well as the 50, 100 and 200m butterfly. Le Clos has taken 100m butterfly gold at the last four editions of the championships, dating back to 2012.

“I’m gutted that the team couldn’t come out. For a lot of these young swimmers, this opportunity would have been massive for them to compete and get the experience. I definitely feel for Matthew Sates. After having a phenomenal year, he could definitely have picked up some medals here,” said Le Clos.

ALSO READ: Tatjana sets new Olympic record in 100m breaststroke heat

“I’m also sad that my parents couldn’t be here to watch. All round this travel ban has hit us really hard. I was really lucky to be in Europe at this time – otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go either.”

Le Clos says he isn’t 100 percent fit ahead of the event but hopes for the best.

I wouldn’t say I’m fully fit, but I’m as good as I can be. I don’t like to make excuses. After having a small tear in my knee just six weeks ago, I think I’ve come a long way. Six or seven weeks ago we didn’t think we’d even be able to make it this far so just to be here is a blessing.

“If I can nick a medal, a little bronze, I’d be over the moon – considering the year that I’ve had.

“I’m just really happy to be here and represent my country, represent my family and my fans. Shout out to everyone back home who is supporting me and the team – the four of us – a very small team. Let’s show the world that South Africans are as tough and resilient as we are and fight through all the adversity we’ve had this year.”

The other South Africans competing in Abu Dhabi this week are 2018 world short course bronze medallist Brad Tandy, who will compete in the 50m freestyle and 50m butterfly, Tayla Lovemore (50 and 100m butterfly), who like Tandy is based in the USA, and Australia-based Michaela Pulford (200, 400 and 800m freestyle).

At the last Short Course World Championships in Hangzhou, China in 2018, the South African team claimed three golds, two silvers and two bronzes to finish sixth on the medal table.

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