KATLEGO PHEEHA                                                                          

Cameron van der Burgh became an overnight South African sport icon on Sunday 29 July when he won the gold medal in the men’s 100 metre breaststroke at the 2012 Olympics in London. Van der Burgh became the first South African male to win an individual swimming gold at the Olympics when he finished first in a world record time of 58.46 seconds.

Van der Burgh, who is currently studying Commerce and Law at the University of Pretoria, put his studying on hold in order to pursue his Olympic dream. The 24-year-old was the surprise package in the qualifying heats and won the semi-final in emphatic style; breaking the previous South African, African and Olympic records with a time of 58.95 seconds. With gold medal prospect Chad Le Clos failing to win a medal the previous day in the men’s 400 metres medley final, the pressure was on Van der Burgh to win South Africa’s first medal of the London Olympics.

Van der Burgh led the race from the very beginning, reaching the turn first and made no mistakes heading to the finishing line. Midway through the sprint to the finish the South African seemed to be running out of steam and for a moment he was in danger of being caught by Australian Christian Sprenger. Van der Burgh however seemingly unfazed by the big stage as he pushed to touch first and win gold for his country and break Australian Brenton Rickard’s world record by 0.12 seconds. “It is just a feeling that I can’t describe right now. The last four years have been a lot of hard work,” he said after the race. “I don’t really care about the world record. It really doesn’t faze me. Once you become an Olympic champion, you join a club and they can never take it away from you.” Christian Sprenger finished second with a time of 58.93 seconds and Brendan Hansen of the United States took the bronze medal, clocking 59.49 seconds.

Cameron van der Burgh is the first home-grown South African to win a gold medal in swimming at the Olympics. He was born in Pretoria and trains with TuksSwimming at the University of Pretoria’s TuksAquatics centre. In 2010 he was named the African Swimmer of the year.

On a weekend that saw South Africa’s womens’ hockey team being thrashed 7-1 by Argentina, Banyana Banyana losing 3-0 to Canada to end their Olympic journey, and disappointing displays in the swimming department by Le Clos, Suzaan van Biljon, Charl Crous and Wendy Trott, Cameron van der Burgh lifted the spirits of fans and teammates alike. Within minutes of winning gold, “Cameron van der Burgh”, “Olympic gold” and “World Record” were trending in South Africa on Twitter, showing just how much it meant to the people of the country.

If you missed the action last night, watch the SuperSport highlights here.

Website | view posts