Kuala Lumpur 1998: Ryk Neethling (South Africa)

There is something special about the Commonwealth Games which to me can be summed up in two 1500m finals.

At the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, I made the final in lane 7 and had the World Record Holder and my idol Kieren Perkins next to me in lane 6. I didn’t have a great meet and had zero expectations for the race. In fact I didn’t even take a track suit to the pool because there was no way I’d end up on the podium in a field that included Kieren along with Grant Hackett, Daniel Kowalski and Graeme Smith.

Four years earlier, I was only 16 and had qualified for the 400 and 1500 freestyles at my first Games in Victoria, which was also South Africa’s first one back after isolation. I’d managed to scrape into the final of the 1500 in lane 8, a race in which Kieren broke the World Record and in the process lapped me! Although I got beaten by 100m I was so happy to have been in a world record race, not least because all the noise had pushed me to a new South African and African Record.

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Things were very different this time round though. I stuck to Kieren’s knees and at the 800 I was still there. At 1000m I moved up to his hips at 1300m I passed both him and Daniel Kowalski. That meant for the last 200m I found myself in a head to head sprint with the World Record Holder in an event that he’d lapped me in at the previous Games.

I held on and managed to out touch him by just 12 one hundredths of a second to take silver behind Hackett in a time of 15.02.88, a best time by 12 seconds. Having left mine behind, I had to borrow a teammate’s tracksuit for the medal ceremony and was just awestruck to share a podium with the two Australians.

Off the back of that medal, I was invited to meet Queen Elizabeth at her official residence with a few other remarkable athletes from the Games. It was exciting meeting her and the whole experience is definitely one of the highlights in of my international swimming career.

Banner image: Esmonde Yong on Unsplash