Golden night for SA swimmers

Barcelona - South African Chad Le Clos backed up his Olympic 200m butterfly title with a first world championship gold medal in Barcelona on Tuesday night thanks to a storming last 50m that saw him pull away from Poland's Pawel Korzeniowski.

Twenty-eight-year-old Korzeniowski looked set to reclaim the title he won seven years ago in Montreal as he turned for home in front, but Le Clos reclaimed the lead with a rapid underwater burst and clung on to win in a time of one minute 54.32 seconds.

And Le Clos admitted afterwards that it was after watching Michael Phelps' remarkable eight gold medal haul at the Beijing Olympics that he realised just how important his underwater stretches could be.

"Phelps was the one that taught me underwaters," said the 21-year-old who beat his hero by four hundredths of a second to take the gold in London last year.

"Watching him in Beijing destroy people off the turns made me realise just how important that is.

"The first time I really used it to my advantage was in 2010 for the world short course championships.

"I practiced my underwaters every day for a year before that and it has now just become part of my training."

Le Clos could even afford the luxury of looking across at his competitors several times in the final few metres as he closed in on victory, but he admitted that he hadn't been quite as calm as it seemed.

"I could see the cameraman following lane eight and I thought they were winning.

"I was scared I was in second," he said with a relieved smile.

"Looking across is something I've done my whole life, especially in the butterfly, and my coach always used to shout at me for it.

"I even did it at the Olympics last year as I looked underwater at Michael in the last 50m, but you guys didn't see that because you were concentrating on Michael!"

Le Clos' victory started the ball rolling for a great night for South Africa as Cameron van Der Burgh and Giulio Zorzi took gold and bronze respectively in the men's 50m breaststroke.

There were fears earlier in the year that the likes of Le Clos and Van Der Burgh would have to foot their own bill to compete in Barcelona due to a lack of funding and Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Van Der Burgh hopes the sport's administrators in the country use their success to bring in more funding.

"Since the Olympics we have brought on a new generation of South African swimming. With more medals also comes more pressure as the expectation is there that we'll just keep getting more and more, but pressure is also a priviledge.

"It is now up to the organisers in South Africa to step forward and utilise the traction that we have given them to get more sponsorship and make swimming in South Africa bigger.

"As athletes we do as much as we can and now it is up to them."

Zorzi, who qualified for the finals with the slowest time, was an unexpected bronze medal winner and during the medal ceremony was pulled onto the podium by Van der Burgh who put his arm around his shoulder as the national anthem was played.

"It is a special night for SA swimming and to share the medals and podium with Giulio is special to me and him as well," said Van der Burgh.

"This is a new era of SA swimming and there is welcomed pressure to add to the sport in SA. It's now up to Swimming South Africa (the national body) to step up and make swimming bigger."

Zorzi said he was so happy that he could hardly explain it.

"It is the best third place I ever got. To get a medal at the world championships is the best. I am so happy and proud of myself," said Zorzi.

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