Meet Alaric and Alard Basson, identical twins that sometimes even have their coach Mark Edge wondering if they aren’t playing a trick on them, writes GARY LEMKE in Rabat.
The two of them are so close that when I asked them the question, ‘Do you both support the same football team?’ the answer shot back instantaneously and in complete harmony. ‘We don’t really watch football,’ they chorused, as if rehearsed, except it wasn’t. That’s just how they are: inseparable.
In fact both are doing the same studies – a BTech: Construction Management at Nelson Mandela University. However, there is one small difference: Alaric has an African Games gold medal dangling round his neck, after winning the men’s 100m breaststroke title at the Mohamed V Olympic Pool in Casablanca.
‘This was totally unexpected … I’m very, very happy,’ he said. ‘Did I say I’m very happy?’ And brother Alard was there to share in his joy.
Both hail from Uitenhage and make the 45-minute journey daily to Port Elizabeth to train with Edge at the Madibaz swimming club. ‘They’ve both got real talent and dedication.’ says Edge, who is part of the Team SA coaching staff at these Games.
‘I know that [head coach] Graham [Hill] was quietly confident that Alaric would win the gold, but all I was hoping for was some improvement and a good swim, especially given that Alaric’s best event is the 200m breaststroke. So, I thought that he’d be in the medals, but it was always going to be tough against 50m gold medallist Michael Houlie.’
Houlie, the 19-year-old who has been touted in many circles as the heir apparent to South Africa’s now retired former Olympic champion, multiple world champion and world record-holder Cameron van der Burgh, was left to take the bronze medal as his countryman surged to gold.
‘It’s a massive surprise to me because I was racing in the World Student Games and the Fina World Championships and I didn’t perform as well in those two big events as I had hoped to. I’d been racing for a month and a half and then came here having barely trained. And we had to get used to the food and the accommodation here. That’s why I was so surprised with this swim. It was against all the odds.’
Not only did he win gold but he did so in a personal best time of 1min 00.96sec. ‘Coach and I decided to try a new strategy and that was to keep relaxed in the first 50 and then come back hard. I went out quick but stayed relaxed and then knew I had the gas to come back in the last 50. To be honest I knew that I had the win when I turned at 50, I didn’t see anyone next to me and I was feeling comfortable.’
Barely 18 hours later he returned to the same pool for his preferred event, the 200m, and blew the field away in the heats, coming home in 2:15.31 which was a full two seconds quicker than anyone else in qualifying and set him up for his second gold medal of the championships – and certainly the two biggest wins he’s had in his burgeoning career.
He completed the job in 2:14.21, admitting that it was ‘tougher than expected’ in holding off Egyptian Yousef Elkamash by 0.62sec. ‘I knew I was in a race and it wasn’t as comfortable as I had hope but I dug deep. It feels great to be called African champion in two different events!’
Alard, the younger 23-year-old brother by three minutes, is also looking to change his racing strategy to see whether it has the same effect as it has on Alaric.
‘I just missed out on World Student Games qualifying and that put me in a bit of a slump, he says. ‘While Alaric was away competing in those two events in June and July I put in some as hard work, and in training I started focusing on being relaxed in the water. So, these African Games are a first test of that. My approach to the 100m ‘fly is different now. I’m holding back in the first 50 to have more in the tank. It’s the same technique that my brother now uses so we’ll see how it pans out.’
The pair will continue to train and travel together and they’re sure to have a lot more fun on the way as well.