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SA swimmers glide to victory



South Africa obtained two gold medals in the 1.5km open swimming at the Maccabi Games on 24 July, with matric student Hannah Robertson winning the open category and 16-year-old Rachel Smith winning the 14 to 16 age group.

In doing so, Robertson ended the games with 14 medals (six coming in individual races), while Smith added to the relay bronze she won earlier in the tournament.

Just participating in the Maccabiah was the realisation of a dream for Smith. “It’s been absolutely amazing,” says this King David High School Linksfield student. “We actually just went to the Kotel now, which was also my granny’s dream. I spoke to her afterwards, and that was very special.”

Robertson enjoyed her open water race in spite of having a setback. “I actually went off course,” says this St Andrew’s School for Girls student. “I was coming first overall. Then I went to the wrong beacon triangle in the water and I had to turn around and go back, meaning I came fifth out of the water but I came first out of the girls. I don’t usually do open water swims, but it was really fun.”

Smith, who swum in several races during the games, was amazed to win her open water category. “The competition is strong here,” she says. “I was just aiming to do my best.”

She says swimming with the relay team was a lot of fun. “We were all so happy. We didn’t know each other very well before this, but we’ve become very strong friends.”

Smith swims at Mandeville Dolphins Swimming Club in Bezuidenhout Valley, Johannesburg, under the tutelage of Dean Price, a former Springbok swimmer and the current manager of Swimming Excellence at Swimming South Africa. He has coached some of the country’s top swimmers such as Natalie du Toit, the winner of 13 gold medals at the Paralympic Games.

Whereas Du Toit once said, “Going out there in the water, it feels as if there’s nothing wrong with me,” Smith says, “The pool is the place where I feel happy.”

Smith won the South Africa Regional Junior Age Group Champs 1 500m freestyle earlier this year, and also partakes in cross country at school.

“My mom introduced me to swimming when I was a baby,” says Smith. “I just carried on from there.”

Her goal is to “get better and better and perform. Just give my all-around best and maybe get a scholarship overseas for it one day.”

Robertson, meanwhile, has “had the best time ever” at this year’s Maccabiah. “I knew I was going to have fun and make lots of friends, but I can honestly say that I feel like I’ve been part of a family. Everyone has been so kind to me, so supportive. I’m really sad to leave because I’m going to miss everyone, but I can honestly say that this trip is life changing.”

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