All that glitters is gold for Cameron

By Gary Lemke in London Cameron van der Burgh brought his unique one-man show to London and blew the audience away at the aquatic centre with a world record,... Read more

By Gary Lemke in London

Cameron van der Burgh brought his unique one-man show to London and blew the audience away at the aquatic centre with a world record, gold medal-winning performance in the men’s 100m breaststroke Olympic final on Sunday night.

The result was never in doubt as he followed up on Saturday night’s Olympic record with a superb display of swimming from the front. He hit the turn in 27.07 seconds — 0.60 under the previous world record split ÔÇô and then powered away from a high-class field to touch the wall in 58.46 sec.

That took him to the top of the all-time rankings and it started a celebration that will be a highlight of these Games. Lying on the lane rope in disbelief, he looked at the giant electronic scoreboard and took it all in. The Proteas hammering England by an innings and 12 runs, Ernie Els winning the British Open and now Van der Burgh taking Olympic gold. It doesn’t get any better than that in what has been a stupendous week for South Africa sport.

Almost lost in his celebration was the fact that he’ll be getting R400,000 for his gold medal as an incentive announced by Sascoc before the Games started, while his coach will pocket R100,000.

‘I just tried to swim it like any other race. I spent the day trying to relax, talking to friends and family and focusing. I was never that worried about the world record but I always knew that I’d have to swim a 58.5 to win here. That’s been the plan all along and something we’ve worked on for a couple of years. I’d also like to pay respect to Norway’s Alexander Dale One (the world champion) who died earlier this year and this swim was in his memory.’

Right now, the Norwegian will be looking down on him from the great pool in the sky and nodding his head in approval.

So far 29 countries have won medals, but Van der Burgh’s was the first one for Africa at these Games. It was also South Africa’s 20th Olympic medal since readmission in 1992 ÔÇô nudging them to 20, which is one ahead of the continent’s most populated country, Nigeria.

Van der Burgh arrived in London ranked fifth in the world but that had never fazed him. In words that proved to be prophetic, he had said: ‘I never worried about that because I’ve gone into major events before not even ranked that high but have done well. My preparation went perfectly and I’ve worked all my life for this moment. First I need to make sure I qualify for the final and have some strength left in the tank. It’s pointless swimming your final in the semi and then missing out on what you’ve worked for over the years.’

In Saturday’s semi-finals the 24-year-old Van deer Burgh had lowered the Olympic record of Beijing gold medallist Kosuke Katajima to 58.83 ÔÇô fifth on the al-time list ÔÇô and he admitted after that race that it had given him a massive boost of confidence.

The official result was: 1. Cameron van der Burgh (RSA) 58.46 (WR), 2 Christian Sprenger (Australia) 58.93, 3 Brendan Hansen (USA) 59.49, 4 Daniel Gyurta (Hungary) 59.53.

With South Africa now on the medals table, gold at that, they have equalled the tally reaped in Beijing, but that was only a silver. However, now that Van der Burgh has made such a statement, we can expect the rest of the team to thrive off the energy and momentum. Just like it did when swimming won medals at 1996, 2000 and 2004 ÔÇô and didn’t in 1992 and 2008.

The men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team had reached the final after Roland Schoeman, Darian Townsend, Gideon Louw and Graeme Moore progressed smoothly through their heat and in the final they finished sixth, timing 3:13.45. The surprise winners were France in 3:09.93, while the shock of the race was the failure of Australia, the heavy favourites, to win a medal.

Elsewhere on Sunday night Suzann van Biljon, who had reached the semi-finals of the women’s 100m breaststroke with a personal best, was unable to go one further when she finished seventh in her semi. ‘How can I be disappointed, I swam a PB in the morning,’ she said.

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