2022 Swammy Awards: African Female Swimmer of the Year – Lara van Niekerk


By Spencer Penland on SwimSwam

To see all of our 2022 Swammy Awards, click here.


SwimSwam’s 2022 African Female Swimmer of the Year is South African teenager Lara van Niekerk. Having turned 19 years old in May of this year, van Niekerk broke out onto the world stage in a big way this year.

A breaststroke specialist, van Niekerk won individual medals at the LC World Championships, Commonwealth Games, and SC World Championships this year.

Before the major international meets, van Niekerk got out to a great start this year, breaking her own African Record in the women’s LC 50 breast at the LC South African National Championships in April. She lowered her record mark of 29.88 from 2021 to a 29.72. Later in the meet, van Niekerk also popped off a new personal best of a 1:05.67 to win the women’s 100 breast as well.

Her performances at the LC South African Championships earned van Nierkerk a spot on South Africa’s LC World Championships team, where she would win a bronze medal in the women’s 50 breast with a 29.90. With that medal, van Nierkerk continued South Africa’s streak of winning at least one medal at every World Championships since 2001. Van Niekerk also swam the 100 breast in Budapest, where she advanced to the semifinals, but finished 13th in semis, failing to advance to the final.

She would then go on to the Commonwealth Games later in the summer, winning gold medals in the women’s 50 breast and 100 breast. In the 50 breast final, van Niekerk swam a 29.73, breaking the Commonwealth Games Record in the event and touching just 0.01 seconds off her own Commonwealth and African Records from earlier in the year. Van Niekerk’s gold medal in the event marked South Africa’s first 2022 Commonwealth Games gold medal in any sport.

Moving forward with the meet, van Niekerk then won the women’s 100 breast in a new personal best of 1:05.47, marking her second gold medal of the Commonwealth Games. Later in that same session, van Niekerk helped South Africa set a new African Record in the mixed 4×100 medley relay, providing a 1:05.41 breast split. The relay finished fourth, just off the podium, but van Niekerk had another great performance and a new record under her belt. Van Niekerk would finish off her Commonwealth Games by splitting 1:05.56 on the breast leg of the South African women’s 4×100 medley relay, which also ended up finishing fourth.

Van Niekerk then shifted in SC swimming mode, going to the SC South African Championships in mid-August. There, van Niekerk set a new African Record of 29.62 in the women’s SC 50 breast, qualifying for SC World Champs as well. She also won the 100 breast and 200 breast at those championships.

At the 2022 SC World Championships earlier this month, van Niekerk broker her own African Record in the 50 breast three times. In prelims, she lowered the mark to 29.45, then clocked a 29.27 in semifinals before winning the silver medal in a time of 29.09 in the final. Her performance marked the first time South Africa had won a silver medal in the women’s SC 50 breast since 1999, when Penelope Heyns did so.

Van Niekerk didn’t medal in the women’s 100 breast at SC Worlds, however, she did establish a new personal best of 1:03.93 in prelims. She would end up posting a 1:04.12 to finish fifth in finals of the event.

Prior to this year, van Niekerk’s international success had mostly come in African Championships medals. In 2018, when van Niekerk was just 15 years old, she swept the women’s breaststroke events at the African Championships, also picking up a gold medal in the women’s 4×100 medley relay. At the 2017 African Junior Championships, van Niekerk won gold in the women’s 50 breast and 100 breast, also earning silver in the 200 breast. She also picked up a pair of gold medals on the women’s 4×100 medley relay and mixed 4×100 medley relay.


  • Tatjana Schoenmaker, South Africa – Schoenmaker had won this award the previous four years but fellow countrywoman Lara van Niekerk got the better of her this year. Schoenmaker qualified for South Africa’s 2022 LC World Championships over the summer but didn’t end up competing. Instead, she focused on the Commonwealth Games, where she won two medals. She won Commonwealth gold in the 200 breast, swimming a 2:21.92, also earning silver in the 100 breast with a 1:06.68. Schoenmaker also qualified for the 50 breast final at the Commonwealth Games, where she would end up finishing fourth. Though she had a great meet at Commonwealth Games, it was the only major international meet she competed in this year, as she sat out both the LC and SC World Championships.


SwimSwam: 2022 Swammy Awards: African Female Swimmer of the Year – Lara van Niekerk

You must be logged in to post a comment Login