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24 October 2020 | in FISU Athletes, NUSF News

Records tumble at the hands – and feet – of SA student athletes

Schoenmaker after breaking the African recordSchoenmaker (centre) after breaking the African record. Image courtesy of Curro Hazeldean Independent School With competitive sport competitions tentatively returning in various parts of the world, both current and former South African student athletes have wasted little time in showcasing their talent on the global stage.


Across several sporting codes, fears mounted of performances being below par following months of inactivity, with lockdown restrictions resulting in countless competition cancellations and hampered training regimes for athletes the world over.


Yet those fears were put to bed in spectacular fashion by two South African former FISU World University Games stars in particular, as swimming sensation Tatjana Schoenmaker and road-running speedster Stephen Mokoka returned to their respective sports by writing their names into the record books.



Tatjana Schoenmaker in actionSchoenmaker in action. Image courtesy of Curro Hazeldean Independent School Schoenmaker, a double gold medallist in the 100m and 200m breaststroke events at the 2019 FISU World University Games in Napoli, Italy, was in fine form at one of her first competitive swimming events post lockdown, the SSA Regional Short Course Championships in Pretoria, South Africa.


The 23-year-old University of Pretoria student obliterated both her opponents and the clock, finishing seven seconds ahead of national teammate Kaylene Corbett in second place, but even more impressively touching the wall in a time of 2min 18.20 seconds, breaking a 12-year-old national and African record in the process.


Schoenmaker and van BiljonSchoenmaker and van Biljon: Courtesy of Schoenmaker's social mediaThe previous record was held by renowned South African swimmer Suzaan van Biljon, with Schoenmaker taking over half a second off the record time set in 2008.


“Not only do I have the privilege of breaking Suzaan’s record, but also being able to have her as a friend! God really blessed me,” Schoenmaker wrote on social media following her feat.


“Thank you to everyone else who made this possible and for your endless support.”


From the swimming pool in Pretoria to the tarred roads in Gdynia, Poland, another South African and former student-athlete star Stephen Mokoka broke a record of his own at the Word Half Marathon Championships.


Stephen Mokoka at World Half Marathon ChampionshipsStephen Mokoka at World Half Marathon Championships and TUT footballers called up – courtesy of Azwitamisi Shadrack/TwitterThe Tshwane University of Technology graduate, who has four FISU World University Games medals to his name including gold in the 10 000m event at the 2013 Universiade in Kazan, was part of a star-studded field vying for global Half-Marathon honours in Poland, lining up at the start alongside long distance running superstar, multiple record breaker and fellow student athlete medallist Joshua Cheptegui from Uganda.


Following a blistering race eventually won by Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo, Mokoka crossed the finish line in an impressive seventh-place, his time of 59 minutes and 36 seconds shaving off a massive 15 seconds of the South African Half Marathon record he set himself in Buenos Aires, Argentina last year.


Compatriots Precious Mashele and Collen Mulaudzi finished 15th and 23rd respectively – both in personal best times – as they helped South Africa to fifth place in the Men’s Team Competition, while Glenrose Xaba also ran a personal best in the women’s race as she finished 16th.


“Given the background of their preparations, we are very grateful for the achieved performances from all our athletes,” said Aleck Skhosana, the President of Athletics South Africa.


“The global pandemic caused by the Coronavirus has affected training of athletes and how and when each of us returned to competition, and that has had a telling on all but you can’t blame anyone for that.


“Of the four athletes who participated, three finished in the top 20 and all our athletes’ clocked personal best performances.”


Mokoka Kazan 2013Mokoka at Kazan 2013. Photo by Fabio Di Dominicis

And finally, moving to the lush football fields of southern Africa, women’s competitive football will return for the first time post-lockdown with the annual COSAFA Cup competition involving ten southern African national teams.


South Africa’s women’s team have won the last three editions of the tournament on the trot, yet even more significant was the fact that head coach Desiree Ellis – the 2019 CAF Africa Women’s Football Coach of the Year – has named nine current university footballers in her pre-tournament training camp, making up a third of her 27-strong national squad.


TUT footballers called up to the national teamThe young talent includes five players from the Tshwane University of Technology, including Tiisetso Makhubela, Koketso Tlailane, Nomvula Kgoale, Hilda Magaia and Nthite Pride; University of the Western Cape trio Kaydee Windgove, Bongeka Gamede and Sibulele Holweni, as well as the University of the Free State striker Nomsa Mathonsi. Magaia and Gamede were both part of South Africa’s student-athlete team at last year’s World University Games in Italy.


With the squad going into camp over the last week of October before being trimmed down ahead of November’s tournament taking place in port Elizabeth, South Africa, head coach Ellis is excited to see what her young team is made of as they look to defend their COSAFA Cup crown.


“We last got together in March, so we will get an opportunity to look at players and give others an opportunity as well,” she told the media. “The camp will also allow us to analyse which players raise their hands for the final selection.”


Following a challenging year of sacrifice, limitations and uncertainty, South African student athletes have shown their mettle, proved their worth and are ready, more than ever, to showcase their ever-blossoming talent.