She had just smashed the Olympic record in the 100m breaststroke, but Tatjana Schoenmaker was not getting carried away with her performance and medal prospects at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday.
The 24-year-old from Pretoria produced the race of her life to set a new Olympic mark of 1:04.82, which eclipsed American Lilly King’s previous standard by 0.11 seconds, to win her heat and advance to the semi-final, which takes place at 3.56am on Monday, with the final on Tuesday at 4.17am.
The 200m competition kicks off on Wednesday, with Schoenmaker’s heat at 12.45pm SA time, with the semi-finals on Thursday (4.54am-5.01am), and the final on Friday (3.41am).
In fact, Schoenmaker was so reluctant to talk up her chances of grabbing a medal in the 100m that she said she just wants to make the final.
“I don’t know! Especially because it was my first race, I just gave it all from the start, and still wanting to get my pace up. But ja, I obviously didn’t expect that fast time! But I am very happy with that,” Schoenmaker said.
“We have the world’s best (Lilly King) – she didn’t swim her best time today, but she is definitely looking good. So, we’ll see – if you have a lane, you have a chance, so I’m just hoping to maybe make it to the final.
“I’m very happy with that – I didn’t expect that at all. Obviously my 200 is always a little bit better, but it was a good swim, and I think most of the girls are still going to swim much faster tomorrow.
“So, I’m just trying to get into the final, and just have a lane there. The 100 is not my favourite race – that is why I was so shocked! But I am very excited to race the other amazing girls.”
King is still the favourite as the defending champion and world record-holder in the 100m breaststroke, but she was far from her best in winning her heat on Sunday in 1:05.55. But her world mark is 1:04.13, which is why Schoenmaker is wary of getting ahead of herself ahead of Tuesday’s final.
“I try and not focus on that too much. Obviously I am just here to do my best, and that’s all that I can do. Obviously people get really excited, which is okay,” she said.
“But for me, I just want to swim my best times, and I already did it (in the 100m). So, that just means it’s off my shoulders, and I did it, so I am just very happy about that.”
But there is no denying that she is in the form of her life, having lowered her previous personal best of 1:05.74 by almost a second.
Her 1:04.82 is the fifth fastest time in history, behind King’s world record of 1:04.13, Ruta Meilutyte (1:04.35), Yulia Efimova (1:04.35) and Jessica Hardy (1:04.45).
After such a remarkable performance on Sunday, Schoenmaker and South African fans have every right to dream that she can match Penny Heyns’ double gold from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in the 100m and 200m breaststroke.