Champions of South African Swimming

World Records and Medalists

1900 - 1960

Jenny Maakal won bronze in the 1932 Olympic Games, and Joan Harrison won gold in the 100m backstroke at the 1956 Olympic Games. 

British swimmers Natalie Steward, formerly of South Africa and then Rhodesia, set a world record and won two Olympic medals for Great Britain.

1961 - 1991

During the three decades of isolation from international competition, South African swimmers continued to achieve some success. From 1965 - 1970 Karen Muir and Ann Fairlie dominated international women's backstroke.

In 1976  Jonty Skinner set a world record in the 100m freestyle at the USA national championships, 6 weeks after the Montreal Olympics. Peter Williams set a new world record in the 50m freestyle in 1988.

Post 1991

The world record breaking South African men's 4x100m freestyle relay team - with an unhappy-looking Michale Phelps in the background.

In 1991 most South African sporting codes were allowed back into world competition. In 1996 Penny Heyns won the 100m and 200m breaststroke events at the Atlanta Olympics and become the women's Swimmer of the Year in 1996 and again in1999. Heyns was to set 12 world records.

At the Sydney Olympic Games in 2004 the South African men won gold in the 4x100 freestyle relay, in a world record time - an event before only ever won by swimming powerhouses the USA and Australia. Terence Parkin won silver in the 200m breaststroke and Penny Heyns bronze in the 100m breaststroke. South African swimming was truly back on the map!

In the 2012 London Olympic Games Chad le Clos of Durban surprised by beating Michael Phelps to take gold in the men's 200m butterfly, plus silver in the 100m, and world record holder Cameron van der Burgh won gold in the 100m breaststroke. le Clos also won two silver medals at the 2016 Olympic Games and by 2020 had set four new world records.

Empire and Commonwealth Games

South Africa participated in the Empire and Commonwealth Games from 1930 until it withdrew from the British Commonwealth after becoming a republic in 1961. It rejoined in June 1994. Oonagh Whitsitt of Natal became the only South African diver to win an international medal when she won gold at the 1930 Empire Games.

2018 double gold winner Tatjana Schoenmaker (right) moved to Pretoria enrolling at the TuksSport High School, swimming with coach Rocco Meiring.

South African Internationals

Numerous swimmers have emigration and were lost to South African sport. Since they began taking up American scholarships at the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s, many more have followed - and most never returned to their country of birth.

Graham Johnston was a legend in Masters swimming - and he left Bloemfontein to take up a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma in 1953 - never to return. Natalie Steward is an Olympic medallist and world record holder for Great Britain, whose parents left Pretoria for Rhodesia, and later moved to England. 

More recent emigrants include open water champion Keri-Ann Payne (above), Princess Charlene Grimaldi of Monaco, marathon man Lewis Pugh, world champion triathlete Simon Lessing and international ironwoman champion Paula Newby-Fraser, and many others.

Local Heroes

While dozens of competitors of all disciplines elected to leave South Africa to compete overseas on US scholarships or using foreign passports, swimmers like Karen van Helden, Graham Hill, Jannie Horn, and Paul Blackbeard, chose to remain local. 

Others, including Annette Cowley and Gary Brinkman, tried unsuccessfully to compete for other countries. A number of former national champions returned home from American universities to again become multiple titleholders at the SA Championships.

The international success of many South African swimmers since re-admission hints at the true loss of 30 years of international participation. 

Disabled Champions

Since the first Paralympic Games in Rome in 1960, swimming has been one of the main sports of the Paralympics. South African and Rhodesian disabled swimmers have set numerous world records.

Natalie du Toit is South Africa's superstar of the Paralympic Games, but a number of other swimmers have also an international success.

arnold schwarzenegger, reg park, joj jon park

Springbok swimmer and British Olympian Jon Jon Park, with his father Mr. Universe Reg Park and Arnold Schwarzenegger.