The newly crowned 50m backstroke world champion, Zane Waddell, arrived back in Bloemfontein on Tuesday after a long commute from Gwangju, South Korea, where he stunned the swimming fraternity on Sunday during 18th edition of the FINA Swimming World Championships.
The 21-year-old, who was born and raised in Bloemfontein and now studies at the University of Alabama in the USA, won the 50m backstroke for men in 24.43 sec, to earn South Africa’s only gold medal at the World Championships. In doing so, the Grey College old boy, announced himself on the world stage and also lifted South Africa’s medal hopes for the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Earlier in the in July, Waddell, also won the 50m gold at the World University Games in Napoli in a time of 24.48 sec.
The next mission for the tall swimmer will, however, be to ensure that he boards the flight to the Land of the Rising Sun next year.
While it was not a good showing for team South Africa in Gwangju, Waddell, told Bloemfontein Courant that the meet is one that he with definitely remember for the rest of his life.
“The 18th FINA World Champs in South Korea is definitely one to remember. It was really an honour to go out there and represent South Africa, represent Bloemfontein, and represent everyone who has been with me along the way. To be able to achieve such a high-level accolade is just phenomenal, it something that I cannot describe in words.”
“This was definitely one of my short to medium term goals, to be able to get that Olympic gold medal. I am happy to have achieved that, but it is time to look forward. I do have the Olympics coming up next year and I do have that gold medal dream that I have to look forward to, so I can’t spend too much time dwelling on this. I have enjoyed this but now it is time to move on and carry on training hard to achieve my next goal.”
The fact that Waddell won the gold does not ensure him of place in sport’s greatest showpiece next year. He will still have to qualify, which he can do while swimming for the Crimson Tide in the USA, or coming back to South Africa and finish in the top two at the National qualifiers.
“I’ve heard that there is a small window in which I can qualify for team South Africa outside of the Nationals. However, I still have to come to the Nationals and place in the top two to book and confirm my ticket to the Olympics.
“I was a little sad not to be swimming the 100m backstroke during the World Championships because I was 0.02 sec off qualifying for the Olympics in Naples. So, to have had a second chance to swim, that would have been great. I’m really looking forward to the 100m backstroke, I’ve obviously got the speed for the 50m, so we’ve just got to work on my endurance then I think my race could really come together.”
Waddell will be in Bloemfontein until 17 August, when he will be heading back to the USA for this final year of studies. Because of his college commitments, he will not be able to represent South Africa at the All Africa Games from 18 to 31 August in Morocco. On the same day Waddell departs, another one of his former coach, Simon Gray’s, swimmers, Tailyn Seyffert, will be flying out to Budapest, Hungary to compete in the 2019 FINA Junior World Championships. – MORGAN PIEK