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News24.com | Teen Lara van Niekerk claims bronze as SA wins first medal at FINA World Championships

News24.com | Teen Lara van Niekerk claims bronze as SA wins first medal at FINA World Championships

South African swimmer Lara van Niekerk

South African swimmer Lara van Niekerk

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

South African swimmer Lara van Niekerk clinched the country’s first medal at the ongoing FINA World Championships in Budapest on Saturday.

Swimming in lane three, Van Niekerk won bronze in the women’s 50m breaststroke final, touching the wall in 29.90.

Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte secured gold in 29.70, while Italian Benedetta Pilato took home silver in 29.80.

The 19-year-old Van Niekerk is South Africa’s only medallist at the FINA World Championships so far, with the swimming portion of the tournament done in Budapest. The remaining disciplines (diving, water polo and open water) will continue until Saturday, 3 July.

This is Van Niekerk’s final event in Budapest after the teenager reached the 100m breaststroke semi-final but could not progress to the final.

Van Niekerk’s performance means South Africa have claimed a medal at every long course World Championships since Roland Schoeman’s solitary bronze in the 50m freestyle at the 2001 event.

« Surprisingly I wasn’t that nervous. I thought I would be way more freaked out than I was, » said Van Niekerk.

« I was actually very calm and just focused on what I had to do and how I had to execute the race, so I think that was a really good thing – learning how to manage the nerves.

« I’m so happy. My first senior world champs and winning a medal, I think it’s a bonus. »

In April, at the SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha, Van Niekerk made headlines when she stunned Olympic gold medallist Tatjana Schoenmaker to win gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke.

Van Niekerk’s coach, Eugene da Ponte was thrilled with the medal, particularly with an eye on the next month’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

« That was half the reason we decided to come here, to deal with the more high-pressure situation so that when we get to Commonwealth Games, we can really focus and try to swim really fast, » said Da Ponte.

« This was more for experience and that’s going to be for trying to get the times we really want. I’m looking forward to it. I know Lara is too. »

The Birmingham Commonwealth Games is scheduled from 28 July-8 August, Van Niekerk will compete in the 50m and 100m breaststroke events.

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