Joe and Michelle Schoeman of Swimming International, South African distributors of FINIS swimwear and equipment, are probably the proudest parents in the land after their son Henri yesterday won South Africa’s first gold medal at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. He won the men’s triathlon race in 52 minutes and 31 seconds to take a podium place above the local favourite, Australia’s Jacob Birtwhistle, and Marc Austin of Great Britain.
Just before we published this story, Chad le Clos won South Africa’s second gold medal and Ryan Coetzee bronze in the 50m butterfly event.
Henri’s 2nd ranked team mate and bookies’ favourite to win, Richard Murray, finished 6th in the triathlon. Schoeman was ranked 3rd.
Joe can justifiably enjoy this achievement on a personal level as he is his son’s cycling and running coach. A cross-country athlete who also cycled in duathlons, he was quoted by the Sunday Times as saying that he is not Henri’s swimming coach because “he kicks faster than I can swim”. Veteran trainer Alisdair Hatfield oversees this part of his training.
This year started on a high for Schoeman when he won the Abu Dhabi World Series. In 2016 he not only won bronze at the Rio Olympic Games, he had also won the World Series grand final in Mexico. In 2014 he had won silver in the mixed relay at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
His older brother, Riaan, had won bronze in the 400m individual medley at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games and had also competed at two Olympics as a swimmer.
The South African triathlon team is coached by Lindsey Parry of Tuks/HPC. “Henri was brilliant today,” he said yesterday. “He was second out of the water, did enough to ensure that the breakaway group stayed away during the cycle leg and gave a very dominant display on the run showing that his victory in Abu Dhabi World Series-race was no fluke.”
Earlier this week he had predicted that both Murray and Schoeman had a strong chance to medal in the Gold Coast. “It is going to boil down to as who wants it the most and can keep his cool,” he said.
Murray had won bronze in the triathlon at the previous Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, and both were in the team that won silver in the mixed relay.
“There is a real chance that both can medal, but then they really will need to be on top of their game, especially since both England’s Brownlee brothers (Alistair and Jonny) are racing. They are formidable triathletes. Alistair has won the gold medal at the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games while Jonny won bronze and silver,” said Parry.
Both the Brownlees finished behind the two South Africans. Alistair, who is also the defending Commonwealth Games champion, finished 10th and Jonny 7th.
Parry is confident that South Africa’s triathletes can win a second medal competing in the mixed-relay race on Saturday (tomorrow).