Lara van Niekerk Jumps at Second Chance to Book Spot in 50m Breaststroke Final

Lara van Niekerk’s chances of claiming another world champs medal nearly went up in smoke when a bungled start to her 50m breaststroke heat meant she missed out on the semifinal places at the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan on Saturday, 29 July 2023.

Her time of 30.76 to finish fifth in the heat saw her missing the semifinal places by just one spot. But fortunately for van Niekerk, fellow South African and two-time medallist at these championships already, Tatjana Schoenmaker, had safely negotiated her way into the semifinals by finishing second in the same heat in 30.70.

Unlikely to win a medal at the 50m distance, which is not one of her specialities, Schoenmaker magnanimously scratched from the event meaning van Niekerk snuck into the semifinal spots. The Pretoria swimmer then jumped on her second chance, powering to victory in her semifinal in a time of 29.91 seconds.

That saw her safely through to Saturday’s final where she will have the chance to add to the bronze medal she won in the same event at last year’s championships, qualifying as the third quickest swimmer on the day.

Lithuanian Rūta Meilutytė equalled the world record of 29.30 on her way to victory in the other semifinal, with American Lilly King second in a speedy 29.72.

Speaking after the race, a relieved van Nierkerk said: “I am so grateful to have had the chance to swim the semis and wanted to just race to the best of my ability.

“I am really looking forward to the finals now.”

Her coach, Eugene da Ponte, echoed those sentiments, saying: “We are happy with the time and of course are grateful to be handed the opportunity to swim in the semis.

“Now it’s about focusing on all the little things going into the final.”

Earlier in the day, Olympic semifinalist Emma Chelius finished eighth in her 50m freestyle heat in 25.34. That saw her finishing 23rd overall, so missing out on the evening semifinal.

Sunday is the final day of the World Aquatics Championships. Apart from van Niekerk, Rebecca Meder will be the only other South African in action – in the 400m individual medley heats.

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