The 34-year-old, participating in his 18th Nationals, raced through the two-lap event in a time of 50.17 to edge out Myles Brown (50.46), one of the stars of the April 13-18 competition so far, and golden boy Chad le Clos (50.48).
All three will be bidding to go faster in the semifinals or today’s final in a bid to make the Qualification Time Standards (QTS) of 48.99, which they need in order to qualify for the Fina World Long Course Championships in Kazan later this year.
The KwaZulu-Natal meet is doubling up as the trials for the July and August global spectacle, with participants needing to meet the stringent qualifying times set by Swimming South Africa in order to have a chance of making the team.
Only four swimmers have made the times so far – Brown (200m and 400m freetsyle), Le Clos (200m freestyle), Cameron van der Burgh (100m breaststroke) and Sebastien Rousseau (200m butterfly).
Star swimmer Le Clos, who is not enjoying the best of weeks and admitted to being disappointed to lose his national 200m freestyle title to Brown on Wednesday, was also slower than expected in the 200m Individual Medley heats where he was only eighth fastest with a time of 2:08.47.
Gauteng’s Jarryd Baxter (2:07.30) was the fastest in those heats, while Gerhard Zandberg (25.34) of Northern Tigers topped the 50m backstroke qualifiers.
Among the women, who are yet to deliver a qualifying time this week, 15-year-old Mariella Venter (30.09) from Gauteng was quickest in the 50m backstroke.
Elsewhere, Rene Warnes of KZN shot through to the 200m butterfly semis first in 2:14.32, while Western Provinces’ Caitlin Kat (9:04.06) was the best of the 800m freestyle qualifiers.
South Africa’s most famous female swimmer Karin Prinsloo ended a busy morning by swimming fastest in the 200m backstroke thanks to a time of 2:18.27.