South Africa has won its first medal at the London 2012 Olymic Games and it’s a gold.
Cameron van der Burgh won the 100-metre breaststroke final at the Aquatic Centre in world record time of 58. 46 seconds. It’s a 0.2 seconds faster than the previous record held by Australian Brenton Richard.
Another Australian, Christian Sprenger finished second in 58.93 seconds while Brendan Hansen of the United States clinched the bronze media in 59.49 seconds. Two-time defending champion Kosuke Kitajima has finished fifth.
“Tonight, as I came in, I said to myself, ‘a man can change his stars, you can write your own destiny tonight’. I had my chance and I took it,” he said, after a victory that saw him lie back in the pool in sheer exhilaration at the finish.
Van der Burgh later said he was looking up at the sky – remembering Norwegian rival and world champion Alexander Dale Oen, who died earlier this year of a heart attack.
“I know that he was probably laughing down at me, thinking ‘how can you go that time?'”
Van der Burgh’s victory ends a medal drought for South African swimming, after the team failed to win a single medal at the Beijing Games in 2008, a disappointment after Athens when an “awesome foursome” won gold in the 4×100 freestyle relay, followed by an individual silver and bronze from Roland Schoeman.
In rugby, cricket and soccer-mad South Africa, Van der Burgh is rare and among swimmers as something of a celebrity. Unlike a lot of top international swimmers he has resisted the temptation to train in the United States and until recently trained in a 25 metre pool in his local gym.
But he tightened up his training – moving to an Olympic-size pool and improving his nutrition – in the run up to 2012, shaving seconds off his time.
Van der Burgh trains under the tutelage of German coach Dirk Lange and Ryk Neethling, a veteran swimmer and the first South African to compete in four successive Olympic Games.- additional reporting by Reuters