Record breaker Tatjana Schoenmaker: My wins took me by surprise

At just 22 years old, Tatjana Schoenmaker has made the breaststroke her own and gone from being relatively unknown to one of top medal contenders every time she dives into the pool.

South Africa's Tatjana Schoenmaker at the FINA Swimming World Cup on 2 August 2019. Picture: @fina1908/Twitter.

CAPE TOWN - It’s been a whirlwind 18 months for one of South Africa’s brightest young swimming stars.

From winning two gold medals (100m and 200m breaststroke) at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 - to becoming the first South African female swimmer to medal at the World Championships.

At just 22 years old, Tatjana Schoenmaker has made the breaststroke her own and gone from being relatively unknown to one of South Africa’s top swimming talents and medal contender every time she dives into the pool.

Schoenmaker burst onto the scene in the Gold Coast in 2019, winning gold in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke, setting African record times in both distances.

The Tuks swimming sensation would carry that form into 2019 and break her own African record in the semifinals of the 200m breaststroke at the FINA World Champs, touching the wall in a time of 2:21.79.

Only three swimmers have clocked faster times this season – Russia's Yuliya Efimova (2:20.17) and the American duo of Annie Lazor (2:20.77) and Lilly King (2:21.39).

Schoenmaker would round out her maiden World Champs by making her own piece of history, winning silver in the 200m breaststroke in Gwangju, South Korea.

Speaking to EWN Sport, Schoenmaker said her World Champs performance was one that took her by surprise.

“It felt weird because everyone told me before the time that your first World Champs is very stressful, but I was just really excited and happy to be part of the team and tick it off my list that I participated in the competition”, she said.

“I didn’t expect to do a personal best in the semifinal, but I think in general, the main goal for the competition was just to get back to the time that I had at the Commonwealth Games because since then I hadn’t done a 2:22”, she said.

Schoenmaker also said she learnt a lot from the experience and hoped she could carry it with her in the future.

“It’s really crazy because I had no real expectations going into the World Championships and I was just so excited to be racing against some of the best in the world. I think the biggest thing I learnt was that you should not fear any race because you don’t realise how tough your mind is and how much your mental approach to these things really helps, especially when you aren’t feeling 100% physically”, she said.

As if that wasn’t enough, just under a month later, she was back in the pool winning gold in the 100m and 200m breaststroke in the opening leg of the FINA World Cup in Tokyo, Japan.

Schoenmaker once again showing her prowess in the 200m event, setting a new world cup record of 2:22.35 on her way to the gold medal.

On day two of the competition, she added gold in the 100m event, touching the wall in a time of 1:06.54.

Despite her accomplishments in her maiden World Cup, Schoenmaker said she wasn’t even thinking about swimming at the time.

“The World Cup was weird because I went there and told my coach not to expect anything from me because I was going there to have a holiday with my family. In the final, I raced a faster time than I did at the World Champs so I couldn’t really believe that. I had no expectations and I wasn’t thinking about racing at all and somehow I ended up winning”, she said.

With just under a year to go until the Tokyo Olympics, Schoenmaker will once again look to fly the South African flag high and said everything she has done has been building towards that.

“You stick with what’s working for you, but you also have to add a few things to get that improvement that we are always looking for. I’m so excited to race against those guys again because it’s so amazing to see how calm they are and how it’s like just a routine thing for them and hopefully one day I can be as comfortable as them when I'm lining up for a race”, she said.

There will no doubt be added pressure and expectation on her shoulders given her performances this season, but if the last 18 months are anything to go by, South Africa’s newest swimming sensation is more than up for the challenge.