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18 February 2021 | in FISU Athletes

South African swimming star eyes qualification to her first Olympics

Kaylene Corbett ready for the challengeBreaststroke swimmer Kaylene Corbett is hopeful that she will take part in her first Olympic Games later this year. The 21-year-old who participated at the 2019 Napoli Summer Universiade said her goal was to “qualify for the Olympic Games as well as compete at another World University Games (WUG) to represent country and team”.  


With only seven weeks to go for trials for both, the Olympics and WUG, the University of Pretoria (Tuks) student-athlete has been training hard alongside former Universiade 3-time medalist Tatjana Schoenmaker under their coach Rocco Meiring. Corbett had this to say about her training so far and her hopes for the year: “This time of the season is so exciting since training is very, very hard, but enjoyable, because you can see the improvements from the last couple months."


"I am extremely excited to finally get the chance to put on a racing costume and jump in the pool and do my absolute best! The next big competition will be held in April and will be the Olympic and World University Games trials which are both teams that I am hoping to be a part of and be able to represent my country later this year.”


She further went on to talk about her gratitude to her fellow teammates, who uplift and support her: “I train together with Tatjana and teammates are very important to me. Your teammates are the ones who push you when you feel like you cannot carry on. The Tuks swim team environment is constantly evolving and getting better but like they say a rising tide lifts all the boats,” she said confidently.


Corbett admits to trying every sport she could at school level, ranging from ballet to tennis to hip-hop to mini cricket to netball to cross-country and finally to swimming. She said, “I was not particularly good at everything, I must say. I tried to be good at everything but swimming finally chose me. When I say that swimming chose me I mean that I started doing better in swimming than in the other sports and started loving my time in the pool with all my friends."


At the young age of sixteen, Corbett was awarded the opportunity to represent South Africa in her first ever international meet at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Games. She went on to snatch two silver and bronze medals which remain a career standout. She thereafter went on to compete at four events in the Commonwealth Games (Australia) in 2018 and made it to the 200m breaststroke final which provided her with heaps of experience and confidence – for the next year where she finished 8th in the final of the 200m breaststroke at the World Aquatics Championships with a time of 2:26.62.


Kaylene Corbett enjoying training in the pool before trialsKaylene Corbett (RSA) enjoying training in the pool before trials 

After tasting victory as well as competing against household names internationally, Corbett has gone through many learning experiences: “The biggest lesson that I have learnt so far is that nothing happens overnight. Some things take years and years of dedication and hard work just to get some sort of success. I wouldn't say that it was a career highlight that has built/motivated me to be the person I am today, but rather a collection of highs and lows right throughout my career."


"My family, teammates, coaches and support team all play a huge role during these times; always ready with advice, a hug or sometimes people to hold me accountable during times that I am not as motivated,” she honestly reflected.


Having hoped to swim a qualifying time for the Olympic Games last year and being struck by fear of the unknown, Corbett was also affected by the lockdown due to the pandemic but says it has been a “blessing in disguise”. Although it was an initial challenge for the swimmer to adjust to, she spent quality time with family and enjoyed some downtime by resting, reading and watching movies. However, Corbett goes on to say that she did miss competing at the annual University Sport South Africa (USSA) tournaments.


“USSA is one of my highlights of the year and having it cancelled last year due to the pandemic was devastating. As a student swimmer, this is an opportunity to race not for yourself or your times but to score points for your team, in my case Tuks. I love competing with my teammates to show how good our sport is at the university and how hard we all work day in and day out to be the best."


Kaylene Corbett"USSA creates an environment where we are all racing, not for ourselves, but for the team. The World University Games in 2019 were one of the highlights of my swimming career since it is the second biggest sporting event after the Olympic Games. The magnitude of the event is something that prepares you mentally for the bigger competitions that you would want to be going to later in your career, like the Olympic Games,” she explained.


Corbett had this encouragement for the next generation of aspiring female swimmers - something she is especially passionate about in South Africa and the world over - “I would give them the advice to never lose the hunger to be better. Every day I wake up wanting to better and to achieve better, but not better than someone else but better than me!"


"Make sure that you challenge yourself to be a whole person, work on yourself not just physically but take care of yourself emotionally, spiritually and mentally. It takes a whole person to succeed. Lastly, build a support system around you that will support you through the highs and the lows since swimming is not an individual sport, you might swim alone but it takes a team to get you faster,” she concluded.


Corbett is set to inspire a generation and we hope she shines on both the Olympic and World University Games stages!