Double Olympic champion Penny Heyns (KZN) again hinted at retiring later in the year after she retained her national 200m-breaststroke title at the Telkom S A Aquatic Championships being held at the Kings Park Aquatic Complex in Durban on Friday.
Helene Muller (Vaal Triangle) torpedoed her fifth Africa record of the gala in the 100m freestyle and the indomnible Terence Parkin (KZN) smashed his third continental mark as he upstaged defending champion and provincial partner Theo Verster in the 200m individual medley.
In the clash of the Titans in the 50m freestyle semifinals eliminator, Brendon Dedekind (KZN) edged out Roland Schoeman (Northern Tigers) while Heyns stopped the clock in 2:26.14secs - nearly three seconds outside her world record - and then told the crowd that this could be her final national gala. "I don't know if this is my last nationals, but from a career point of view, thank you very much for your support, I appreciate it very much," said the 25-year-old 14-times world record-holder, who is expected to make a final decision after the Olympic games in Sydney in September.
Heyns, bidding to retain her 100m and 200m Olympic titles, had Cape Town schoolgirl Sarah Poewe (WP) breathing down her neck for much of the race. Poewe, ranked three in the world, clocked 2:27.58 for her second Olympic qualifying time of the gala. Julia Russell (KZN), who campaigned at the 1996 Atlanta Games, registered a 2:32.98, outside the 2:29.91 Sydney requirement. Heyns, who has struggled with her stroke this week after a month-long break from competition, said she was pretty satisfied with her time. "I have to resign myself to the fact that I'm here to get Olympic qualification."
World records, however, could still come from an SA 4x50m freestyle quartet on Sunday, and even Brett Petersen (WP) in a 50m-breaststroke time trial on Saturday.
Defending champion Dedekind, Schoeman, Nicholas Folker (KZN) and a fourth swimmer, the fourth-fastest in the individual final, are on track to get below the 1:29.16sec unofficial world mark set by a United States team of Scott McAdam, James Born, Mike Neuhofel and Tom Williams in 1987.
In the semifinal eliminator, Dedekind, ranked number two in the world, hit the water first and held his lead throughout to post 22.12 - the fastest time ever on home soil. Schoeman, the top ranked sprinter in the world with a 22.04, touched in 22.32, slower than the 22.19 he scorched in the morning heats. "You've got to be really mentally focused when you get on the blocks," said Dedekind, who won gold at Pan Pacific's last year in a personal best 22.06. "One bad start and it's all over. It takes a lot of pain to go fast." Schoeman, who despite his fast times his first National title still eludes him, said he preferred to give it all in the prelims, semis and final.
"I like getting into the 50m from the start to see what I have and how I feel".
The 19 year old admitted to feeling despondent after losing Thursdays final to University of Arizona teammate Ryk Neethling even though he himself had dipped under the previous continental mark.
"I've got into the situation where I get ranked first going into the final and then don't win. That's not going to happen again " In the other eliminator, Folker clocked 22.92.
" I was pretty broken after last nights swim so to come back and swim well really makes me happy. I'm not a morning swimmer."
Muller, after clocking two continental records each in the 200m and 100m freestyle, managed an incredible fifth one in the shorter race, where she streaked to victory in 55.82. Despite her electrifying start, the pack was snapping at he heels and it was national surf life saving captain, Stacey Bowley (KZN) (56.77) who got ahead to take the silver from provincial team mate Charlene Wittstock (57.25) and Zimbabwean Kirsty Coventry (57.35). "I've just looked to improve the whole week. I want to go out and compete with the rest of the world."
In the men's 200 Individual medley final Terrence Parkin, who already holds the 400m IM and 200m breaststroke titles, cruised home in 2:01.95 - more than a second inside provincial team mate, Theo Verster's previous 2:03.11 Africa mark. Verster finished in 2:03.57, just outside the Olympic qualifying time, which he achieved at the New South Wales Championships in January this year. From the start Parkin made his intentions clear as he matched Verster stroke for stroke in the butterfly leg and despite Verster working the backstroke, the writing was on wall when Parkin a breaststroke specialist powered away to hold a 1.8second advantage going into the final turn. As Parkin hit the wall the capacity crowd rose in unison and waved (this is sign language for applause) when it was clear that both the Olympic "QT" and continental mark were history. Adrian Bosch (CGA) (2:09.52) took the bronze.
Simon Thirsk (WP) (2:03.57) retained his 200m backstroke title in a race which saw him dominate from the start. With the knowledge that he would have to venture where he had never been before to qualify for the Olympics, the likeable Capetonian came up marginally short of his national mark. Behind however it was a battle of the "young guns" as 17 year old George duRand (Free State) (2:06.57) and 16 year old Garreth McGee (CGA) (2:06.78) were involved in a "ding dong" battle with Brett Rogers (CGA) (2:06.82) with the youngsters coming up trumps.
With Verster scratching from the 100m Butterfly eliminator, All African Games Gold medallist, Ryan Kelly (CGA) (54.82) totally dominated the event. Graham MacFarlane (KZN) (56.68), Derek Craven (NorthernTigers) (56.68) and Luke Wilkens (Free State) (56.69) seem likely contenders for the minor placing on Saturday evening.
Mandy Loots (CGA) (2:19.90) looks set for an exciting tussle with American visitor Denali Knapp (Northern Tigers) (2:20.34) and Charlene Wittstock (KZN) (2:23.10) for the ladies 200m Backstroke title on Saturday evening. Loots the current title holder who has qualified for the Olympics in both butterfly events, but opted out of the medley items will have to break Atlanta Olympics bronze medallists' Marianne Kriels' continental mark of 2:14.51 to make the magical "QT". This could prove to be a fitting climax to a successful week for the diminutive "Gauteng Flyer".