New-look Tatjana shakes off injury to shine at SA champs


Tatjana Smith is in a happy place. The former Tatjana Schoenmaker is newly married, swimming fast again, and on top of the world – literally. That’s after rising to the top of the world 200m breaststroke rankings at the SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha last week.

Image credit Anton Geyser/SA Sports Images

Her time of 2 minutes19.92 seconds in the heats placed her third in the world, and she bettered that in the evening final, swimming 2:19.01 to not only take top spot but achieve her fastest time since that memorable day back in 2021 when she clinched the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

Speaking on the pool deck at the end of the meet in Gqeberha, the 26-year-old explained that she was still recovering from a grade two groin tear. But even that couldn’t hold her back.

“I’m very grateful that it hasn’t flared up and I’m still feeling strong and my times are looking insane for what the past three weeks have looked like in my life,” she said, adding that she was advised not to compete in the national championships.

Meanwhile, explaining her thinking behind her name change, Smith said: “I have this slogan… ‘Swimming is what I do, it’s not who I am.’ And that’s why I changed my surname because I don’t want my identity to lie in swimming.

“People know me as Tatjana Schoenmaker and I really felt like that’s not who I am, that’s just a surname and I’ve grown into a different person, I’m not the person I was in 2021 and I just want to embrace it.”

After the highs of Tokyo where Smith won her 200m breaststroke gold in a then-world record time and also claimed silver in the 100m breaststroke, her form dropped off slightly, beaten by her teenage rival, Lara van Niekerk, at the next year’s national championships in the 100m breaststroke.

“I obviously reached the highest thing in swimming and after that I really, really did struggle coming out.

“Being beaten the next year at nationals was not the greatest, but those are the things that you come out of and it’s not about the achievement it’s about finding the joy in the sport.”

Smith said even at her lowest, she did not feel completely lost.

“I am very much about my faith, and I think in those times where I felt hopeless there was always light, I never really gave up, and I knew it might take some time, and everyone’s roads aren’t straight, there are always obstacles, and I just had to push through and know that there’s a reason for those obstacles.”

Smith admitted that things in her life look very different now, with husband Joel (Springbok captain Siya Kolisi’s brother-in -law) by her side.

“A lot of things in my personal life have also changed, I met my husband, so I think all those things build up, it’s that comfort of home. With my parents leaving after the Olympics, and emigrating [to the Netherlands], that was also a massive adjustment, so I’ve finally found home. I think it’s just those times when I’m out of the pool where do I find my comfort, and I think that’s what made the difference.

“It doesn’t mean that I’m going to swim amazing times and break records again but for me, it’s just knowing that I’m improving and that it’s going better, I feel happier, and ja, I think that’s all that matters, that you’re actually enjoying the sport. I don’t want to do it and be miserable, so I’m finding that joy in swimming again.”