By Gary Lemke
Cameron van der Burgh laid down his marker for Sunday night’s 100m breaststroke final by breaking the Olympic record in the semi-finals at the London 2012 aquatic centre.
Coming in to the Olympics Van der Burgh had been widely tipped to win the country’s first medal at these games and after Chad le Clos finished fifth in the 400m Individual Medley final earlier in the evening, that prediction is still on track. For the second time in the day he reached the turn under world record pace ÔÇô this time it was in 27.67 seconds ÔÇô and he kept going strongly to win the first and qualify quickest overall. He’ll now have the advantage of a favoured lane four.
‘The plan was always to aim for a 58.50 at these Olympics so I’m chuffed with this (58.83 seconds). I knew it was going to be fast because of the morning ÔÇô a dozen swimmers went under a minute ÔÇô but I was focused. The focus was to get into the final and then take it from there, hopefully go get a placing,’ Van der Burgh told the media afterwards after breaking Kosuke Kitajima’s Games record of 58.91.
‘I now have time to have a good rest; have an ice bath and then a nice long sleep and come back tomorrow for the final and be ready.’
It was a convincing performance by the South African. The second fastest qualifier for the final was the Italian Fabio Scozzoli, who was some 0.61 slower than Van der Burgh with a 59.44. The final however promises to be one of the races of the Championships with the South African taking on two Japanese swimmers, including Kitajima, an Australian, Italian, Brazilian, an American and a Hungarian.
An hour earlier Le Clos cut a disappointed figure after finishing fifth in the men’s 400m IM Olympic final, but he can hold his head high after sending out a warning that he’s the future. Even ink him in now as a potential gold medallist in Rio in four years time.
Le Clos, still only 20, replicated his morning swim, a personal best, with a 4min 12.42sec performance ÔÇô 0.18sec slower than his heats ÔÇô in a race in which the first four went under 4:10. Ryan Lochte, the American who Le Clos had touched off in the morning, led from start to finish to win gold with a dominant performance, but the story of the race was the fourth-place of Olympic legend Michael Phelps, who could only finish fourth in 4:09.28.
Lochte won in 4:05.19, with Thiego Pareira of Brazil taking silver in 4:08.86 and Japan’s Kosuke Hagino the bronze in 4:08.94.
‘I’m disappointed with the result because obviously I was hoping for a medal. But I have to console myself with the fact that I finished fifth and swam two 4:12s and if you had told me that would happen this morning I would have taken those times. But once I got into the final, I knew I had a chance. It was my breaststroke leg that let me down but it gives me plenty to work on in the future,’ Le Clos said.
‘I know that my time will come and that Ryan and Phelps will be retiring. There will be a whole lot of other swimming coming through but the experience I have gained from swimming in an Olympic final will be invaluable,’ he added.
Le Clos started strongly and was third after the butterfly ┬áleg, only 0.46 seconds behind Lochte, in third, but he dropped to fourth after the backstroke and then fell further behind following the breaststroke. ‘I knew that I was swimming [in lane five] between two very good breaststrokers.
‘But this gives me a lot of confidence for the 200m butterfly later in the programme,’ he added.