Penny Heyns, Ryk Neethling and Sarah Poewe produced world-class performances at the Telkom S A National Aquatic Championships at the King's Park Aquatic Center in Durban on Tuesday night, while Helene Muller showed what depth lies within the sport in this country.
The unheralded Muller(Vaal Triangle) had become the seventh swimmer at these championships to meet the tough Olympic 'A' qualifying requirement (Poewe made it eight) and the fifth to break a South African record when she powered to victory in the semifinals of the women's 200m freestyle in 2min 00.99sec.
Yet the race the crowd had come to watch was the women's 100m duel between Heyns and Poewe. Someone forgot to tell Julia Russell that.
The results will show that Heyns(KZN) clocked a 1:07.67 - showing her progressive improvement since getting back in to competition - with Poewe's(WP) 1:08.62 showing what the 17-year-old is capable of despite a stomach ailment earlier in the week. But spare a thought for Russell (KZN), whose 1:10.23 helped make the race what it was.
Heyns, in lane four and Poewe in five, went stroke for stroke until the turn, but the double Olympic champion's strength showed inside the last 30m as she headed for familiar territory - the victory spoils.
"This will do for now," Heyns said after her second fastest 100m swim ever in this country. "I am learning how to put a race together each time again."
Poewe admitted to "trying to stick to Penny and maintain long strokes and not go too quick. I'm very happy with that time," she said. The smile told the story better than any wordsmith could.
Neethling(Free State) collected his second gold of the week, adding the 200m freestyle to the 400m he had already claimed with the fastest four-lapper of his career in front of a South African crowd.
Muller had come off an encouraging NCAAs, but her task this week couldn't have been more difficult.
Her previous best time was 2:03.67, the South African record (Karen Allers' 2:02.39 in 1995) and the Olympic requirement set at 2:01.02. That meant a huge improvement was required, but she chose to swim the race of her life on Tuesday night.
However, no matter what selection criteria Swimming SA and the National Olympic Committee of South Africa use when they come to naming the Olympic squad in the middle of June, there will be an outcry if she is not given the green light.
The 21-year-old Vaal Triangle swimmer, now based in Nebraska, has shown over the past few weeks that she will not disgrace any national side at the Games.
Exploding away from the field from the start - "I took it out so fast I thought I wouldn't last" - she came back just as strongly and should she continue like this her performance graph will soon be right in the top echelon of women's 200m freestyle specialists. Kim van Selm(KZN) (2:03.45) and Kirsten van Heerden(KZN) (2:06.26) filled the minor placing.
Neethling, with two golds in the bank, now has his sights set on both the 100m (which begins on Wednesday) and 1 500m freestyle events.
His 1:48.81 was his second Olympic qualifier, and on Tuesday night he reached 50m in 25.52 and turned at halfway in 53.18, just 32 hundredths of a second off his SA record. Despite an initial fast start, Mark Jollands(KZN) (1:53.10) faded but did enough to hold off Western Province youngster, James Wilcox(1:53.29).
Charlene Wittstock had left her best effort behind in the semifinal, where she achieved the Olympic qualifying standard with a 1:02.93.
On Tuesday night she was always having to chase visiting American Denali Knapp, who touched first in 1:02.79 to Wittstock's 1:03.52. Zimbabwean Olympic hopeful, Kirsty Coventry showed that she is right up there with the best South Africa has to offer when she finished strongly in a credible 1:03.74.
The likeable Simon Thirsk(WP) saw his Olympic hopes fade when he missed the qualifying time by ,45seconds when he won the 100m Backstroke title comfortably in a classy 56.36. Greg Main-Ballie(KZN) (58.19) did enough to finish ahead of promising junior Gerhard Zandberg(NT) (58.59).
In the semi finals of the men"s 200m Butterfly it was stalwart Theo Verster(KZN), the continental and national record holder who posted the fasted time(2:04.15), however it was, Raaizik Nordien(WP) (2:05.38), a black swimmer who has come through Swimming South Africa"s" development program, who looks set to be a medal contender in tomorrow nights" final.
With Mandy Loots(CGA) the current national title holder opting out of the Individual Medley items in favor of achieving Olympic qualifying times in her specialized stroke of Butterfly, the field is open for a battle royal in tomorrow nights" final. Again it was Zimbabwean Kirsty Coventry (2:19.75) who holds the advantage over Natalie duToit(WP) (2:23.23) and Candice Crafford(KZN) (2:24.05).