‘The perfect ending to my fairy tales,’ says SA gold medallist

2012-07-31 00:00

“I REACHED for the stars last night. Fourteen years of pain and dedication were paid off in 58,4 seconds last night — it’s definitely the perfect ending to my fairy tales.”

Cameron van der Burgh, South Africa’s first Olympic gold medallist for 12 years, awoke this morning a changed man.

“Waking up as an Olympic champion is like waking up with a newborn baby, something I’m going have to carry for the rest of my life. Something I have to be responsible with.

“Looking over and seeing it [the medal] is still there. It’s amazing to see your dreams have turned into reality. It’s very humbling.

“I’ve broken 12 world records — they will all be broken — but no one can take away being an Olympic champion. Its like being knighted; for athletes there is nothing higher.”

The Pretoria-based swimmer is still coming to terms with the achievement. “It’s slowly starting to sink in, just being greeted on the subway, seeing the papers, seeing people.

“The full magnitude will only come through when I get back home with friends and family and in South Africa; that’s where the support comes from and why we do this.

“All I could remember was [coach] Dirk Lange saying, ‘Get out a fast turn at the wall and give it your all, give it four years of hard work and put it into the 50 metres’. That’s what we did.

“I was in so much pain it took about 10 seconds to figure out if it was my name [on the board] at number one — then pure excitement and relief.”

The world record holder went on to acknowledge the support team that took him to the podium.

“I adopted a quote — ‘as if all my life had been preparing me for this challenge’ — that’s definitely proved true. All the choices of the last four years and the people that I’ve surrounded myself with, the support from Sascoc, I can’t even think of myself being here without the support of all these guys. I’ve just got to thank them for helping me.

“My coach, Dirk, was my rock throughout. He kept me to the game plan and mentored me throughout, allowing me to have the perfect race.”

On Saturday Van der Burgh returns to the pool for the 4x100 m medley relay with high hopes of another medal.

“Swimming is predominately an individual sport, but to compete with team-mates is a great opportunity. If we can support Charl [Crous] into the team, then we have a good chance.”

Durban-based Crous was over two seconds off his expected form in his Olympic debut in the 100 metres backstroke heats.

The two-time Olympian feels there are more medals to follow for Team South Africa.

“Chad [le Clos] can achieve this week and in years to come even more than I did. He is a lot more versatile,” said Van der Burgh, who has received a myriad of messages, including ones from the Proteas, the Springboks and his swimming idol, Penny Heyns.

“It’s just been so humbling. She inspired me in swimming … if I can inspire even 10 youngsters to take up swimming and [one] can come through and do the unthinkable and do what we did then that would be a huge reward as well,” he added.

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