GOLDEN boy Cameron van der Burgh probably smiled in his sleep last night. And he deserved nothing less. Van der Burgh could not stop grinning after conquering the planet’s best in the men’s 100m breaststroke in a 58.46 second world record.
"It’s just a feeling that I can’t describe right now,” he said.
Van der Burgh went into the final as the favourite, having clocked an Olympic record in the semifinals the previous night.
And he delivered in such style he could teach every politician in South Africa just how to perform when it counts.
Van der Burgh simply torpedoed a field that was the who’s who of breaststroke racing. Among his victims were Australian Brenton Rickard, the previous world record-holder, and Kosuke Kitajima, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champion in this event.
Van der Burgh led from start to finish. Everybody knows he has a quick start, but the sceptics did not realise he had been working hard this year on his second lap, when he has been known to fade in the past.
And at no point did the South African star look like he would not win as he sliced 12-hundredths of a second off the world record.
"I didn’t really care about the world record, it really doesn’t faze me,” Van der Burgh said. "Once you become an Olympic champion, you join the club and they can never take it away from you. One day I can tell my kids, when they’re watching the Olympic Games, I’ve done that and I’ve won that and it’s a great honour for me.”
Van der Burgh said the key to the final was treating it like a normal race.
"It’s really so difficult to try and keep focused on the matter at hand. It’s just a race like any other race and you’ve got to see it that way.
"And the whole day it’s just been trying to speak to friends, girlfriend, parents, trying to keep your mind off the matter. Just try and come into the race like a normal day.”
There is a feeling that Van der Burgh’s gold will help inspire other Team SA members, although it was not quite enough to push the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team onto the podium.
Gideon Louw, Darian Townsend, Graeme Moore and Roland Schoeman finished fifth in a nail-biting race where France avenged their defeat four years ago to the US. Russia were third and Australia, the pre-race favourites, fourth.
Every member of Team SA deserves our support, as long as they try their best. But one who needs to buck up is Charl Crous, who crashed out of the 100m backstroke heats in a pedestrian 55.37. South Africa’s 4x100m medley relay team is supposed to be a medal hope come Saturday’s final, but only if Crous breaks 54.00. Perhaps Van der Burgh must have a chat with him.
Meanwhile, the Games threw up four other unlikely South African heroes – in the rowing.
The foursome of Lawrence Ndlovu, John Smith, Matthew Brittain and James Thomson provided a pleasant surprise for Team SA by finishing second in their heat on Saturday in the men’s lightweight fours.
They ended strongly behind a potent Switzerland crew in the opening heat at Eton Dorney, a purpose-built rowing lake in England owned by the famous Eton College.
This ensured their place in the semifinals to take place tomorrow.
The Swiss won in 5min 53.56sec, holding off the strong-finishing South Africans by a fraction of a second in 5:54.62.
Tomorrow, the South African foursome will come up against the Swiss, the British, Australia, France and the Netherlands.
The South Africans and the Swiss had times slower than the following heats but, as SA rowing coach Roger Barrow explained: "The conditions got faster from the first heat to the second and third, so time comparisons between the heats don’t indicate much for future clashes.
"We’re one step closer to a medal and our need is now to focus on peaking on Tuesday because competition is fierce and things are very close between the qualified crews,” he said.