Thanks to a phenomenal year of performances in the pool, swimmers claimed much of the spotlight at the annual SA Sports Awards held at Sun City on Saturday night.
Lara van Niekerk and Pieter Coetzé walked away with the respective Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year awards while Rocco Meiring was named Coach of the Year and Minke Janse van Rensburg claimed the Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability award.
Van Niekerk enjoyed a breakthrough year in 2022, gracing the podium at both world and Commonwealth level. She claimed a bronze medal in the 50m breaststroke at the World Championships in Budapest before taking Birmingham by storm, racing to double gold in the 50 and 100m breaststroke at the Commonwealth Games. She then capped off the year with a silver medal in the 50m breaststroke at the World Short Course Championships in Melbourne.
“Winning this award is such an honour and so special for me,” said the 19-year-old. “But it is not just me who has won it, is also my coach, family and friends who have supported me every step of the way.”
Coetzé, meanwhile, claimed gold in the 100m backstroke, silver in the 50m backstroke and bronze in the 200m backstroke at the Commonwealth Games before heading to Peru where he collected a gold medal in the 200m backstroke at the World Junior Championships. The 18-year-old also added two silvers to his haul – in the 50m and 100m backstroke and another silver and bronze in the relay events in Lima.
“I’m very grateful to be rewarded for the successful year which was made possible by everyone on my team – my coach, my parents and everyone who has supported me,” said Coetzé. “It motivated me a lot and this is only the beginning of many more successful years to come.”
Coetzé trains under the watchful eye of Coach of the Year winner Meiring, whose squad also includes Olympic champion and world record holder Tatjana Schoenmaker and Commonwealth Games silver and bronze medallists Erin Gallagher and Kaylene Corbett.
Meiring paid tribute to his coaching staff at the University of Pretoria, who he said were vital in the team’s Commonwealth Games preparation and success.
“I also have to thank my swimmers for doing the thing I can’t coach – that is stepping up in the big moments,” he said. “Your performances make me look better than what I am.
“The recognition for coaches is appreciated even though none of us do it to win awards – when an athlete succeeds, we succeed,” he added.
Janse van Rensburg was recognised for the multiple Down’s Syndrome swimming world records she has broken.
CEO of Swimming South Africa Shaun Adriaanse congratulated the award winners. “We are absolutely thrilled that our swimmers’ hard work has been recognised with these prestigious awards.
“Congratulations to Lara, Pieter and Minke for this awesome achievement and, of course, to one of the country’s – and world’s – top coaches, Rocco Meiring, who continues to produce a long line of champions.”
SA Sports Awards winners