By Alastair Himmer
MELBOURNE – South Africa’s swimmers accused their Australian rivals of running scared on Tuesday and told the Commonwealth Games hosts to cut out the trash-talking.
Tensions have been rising since South African coach Dean Price sugges
ted the mystery illness that forced Ian Thorpe out of the Games was a tactical guise.
South Africa’s stunning cricket victory over Australia in Johannesburg on Sunday escalated the rivalry further, giving the South African swimmers a psychological boost.
“One of the Aussies in the residence centre said, ‘You guys are going to have to wear black armbands tomorrow,'” double world champion Roland Schoeman told reporters.
“Who’s wearing the black armband now? It’s a great feeling.
“Personally, I prefer to walk the walk than talk the talk. I’ve been burned when I was young by talking too much and walking too little. I’ve learned from that.”
Schoeman won the 50 metres butterfly and 50 freestyle titles at last year’s world championships and was in the 4×100 freestyle relay team who won Olympic gold in world record time in 2004.
“What happened when we won that relay in Athens was the beginning of something great,” said team mate Ryk Neethling. “It scared a few people.”
Neethling also paid tribute to South Africa’s cricketers who overhauled Australia’s world record total of 434 runs to win the deciding match in their one-day series.
“The next morning we were all walking tall,” he said. “My little sister (Jean-Marie) is on the team. She’s 15 and some of the younger swimmers drew a lot of inspiration from that.
“I know I did. It was unbelievable.”
South Africa chef de mission Gideon Sam went a step further.
“We are here to show the guts and glory that our cricketers showed,” he said.
Schoeman was quick to deny, however, that bad blood existed between the swimming teams.
“I don’t think anyone of us will predict world records and say we’re going to beat you or do this and that,” said Schoeman.
“But when we are at the pool we’re going to fight our damnedest to beat anybody.”
The absence of Thorpe and Grant Hackett has seriously weakened the Australian men’s challenge but South Africa’s swimmers still expect to be cast as the villains in Melbourne.
“That’s fine,” shrugged Neethling. It’s what I swim for. To walk out…with 10,000 Australians cheering for their guy. I love that. It’s just going to pump us up even more.”