Home Sport Tatjana Smith says it’s all about embracing her new self

Tatjana Smith says it’s all about embracing her new self

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‘I am going out there and if I can swim my best time obviously, I’ve achieved the best in my sport – and that’s always what I am fighting for, the best time. It is about racing the races as best as possible, and if it ends up being gold, then that’s great.’

Tatjana Smith (left) said she has ‘grown’ since the Tokyo Olympics. Picture: Anton Geyser, SASCOC

Matshelane Mamabolo

SO, WHAT’S in a name, really?

If, as depicted in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, then there’s every reason to expect a golden performance from South Africa’s foremost swimmer at this year’s Olympics.

A gold medallist in the 200m breaststroke in Tokyo, having also earned silver in the 100m of the same discipline, as Tatjana Schoenmaker, she goes to Paris as Tatjana Smith – a married woman now.

But, just as a rose would still smell sweet no matter what it is called, expect Tatjana to produce a mighty fine splash in the French capital, like she did in Japan’s foremost city in 2021.

And she could well even do better this time.

“Look, it’s not about the surname,” Smith told media hounds this week during an interview on the periphery of the announcement of the first batch of squad members of Team South Africa for the 2024 Olympic Games taking place in the ‘City of Love’ from July 26-August 11.

“Yes, it’s very different. Being Tatjana Smith takes a lot of expectations off because Tatjana Schoenmaker …”

The Tokyo success understandably brought with it immense pressure to the swimmer from Pretoria, the glare of the media spotlight and fans’ expectations always falling on everyone who achieves great results at the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.

“When I went to Tokyo, no one knew who I was. Now you get people recognising you. It is different. I like being in the backstage, I don’t like the attention,” Smith said. “So, having to deal with things that takes your energy away (was hard). It was a challenging few years (after the Tokyo success), but I think I found my happiness again.”

Being a wife to Joel Smith – her husband Joel is the brother of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi’s wife Rachel – is part of what gives her that happiness, she said.

“I am happy to be married and going there (to the Olympics) as a married woman. It is about embracing my new self, and I am not (the type to) always be looking back because it is so easy to look back and compare everything to what you did and that day and that perfect race.

“I am not the same person … I’ve moved on, I’ve grown and I am just walking in that journey with myself.”

It is a journey that all of South Africa no doubt hopes delivers yet another golden moment in the Paris pool, like it did in Tokyo.

Smith has the same objective, but is experienced enough to not put herself under undue pressure.

“It is all about not carrying that expectation on yourself. Everyone expects you to win gold, but my expectation on myself is even higher,” she said.

“I am going out there and if I can swim my best time obviously, I’ve achieved the best in my sport – and that’s always what I am fighting for, the best time. It is about racing the races as best as possible, and if it ends up being gold, then that’s great.”

And she loves representing South Africa: “Doing it for the country, wearing the green and gold, is such a prideful moment. Hopefully we get to see the flag raised and hopefully we get to sing the national anthem, because we know that all the millions of people at home are going to be singing with us.”

And it won’t matter that she is Smith and no longer Schoenmaker. For, what’s in a name, really?

For Tatjana does – even though now called Smith – still have that incredible swimming talent which saw her star for South Africa back in Tokyo three years ago.

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