Tatjana Schoenmaker, "I might as well push through and see where I can go"
Gold medal winner in the 2020 Olympics 200m breaststroke final, and World record holder in a time of 2:18.95.
Having made steady progress in recent years, world record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker has transformed herself into South Africa’s top women’s swimmer. After raking in multiple medals as a teenager at the 2015 African Games, she went on to reach the podium again at the 2017 World Student Games. Reaffirming her talent in the 2018 season, at the age of 20, the breaststroke specialist became the first SA woman in eight years to earn a medal in the pool at the Commonwealth Games by securing the 100m and 200m titles at the 2018 spectacle on Australia’s Gold Coast. She also narrowly missed out on the bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke final, breaking the African records over all three distances. Displaying further potential in the 25-metre pool, Schoenmaker went on to shine again later in the 2018 campaign, breaking the long-standing national 50m and 100m breaststroke records at the SA Short-Course Championships in Durban.
The following year she took another big step forward in her blooming career, wrapping up another impressive double at the World Student Games in Naples. After setting an African record in the 100m semifinals, touching the wall in 1:06:32, she went on to win gold in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke finals. Later that season Schoenmaker made history by becoming the first South African woman to earn a medal at the biennial Fina World Championships in Gwangju. She clocked an African record of 2:21.79 in the 200m semifinals, and after lining up among the favourites she stormed to a memorable silver medal. Schoenmaker also put up a fight in the 100m final at the global championships, taking sixth position against a strong field.
While the 2020 season was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, she returned to action later in the year and closed out the shortened campaign by breaking the 50m, 100m and 200m records at the SA Short Course Championships in Pietermaritzburg.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics postponed by a year, Schoenmaker confirmed her place as a medal contender by again shattering her African long-course records over all three breaststroke distances at the 2021 SA Championships in Gqeberha, just three months before the Games.
Living up to the hype, she went on to secure two of the SA team’s three medals at the multi-sport showpiece, and the squad’s only two medals in the pool. After breaking her own African record in the heats, she grabbed the silver medal in the 100m final. In the 200m event, she was even more impressive, shattering the world record in the final to win gold.
Having already been compared to former Olympic champion Penny Heyns, after removing all her esteemed compatriot’s marks from the record books, Schoenmaker has developed into one of the country’s biggest stars in the pool as she continues her rapid rise at international level.