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Ken Borland

Chad & Cameron put childhood habits aside in new lives

Posted on August 09, 2012 by Ken

Habits that they have had since childhood will now be put aside as South African swimming gold medallists Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh get used to their changed lives after the London Olympic Games.

The pair of Olympic champions returned to Johannesburg early on Thursday morning to a tumultous welcome and tried to make sense of their achievements in a press conference with sports minister Fikile Mbalula that was broadcast live on all three of South Africa’s main television stations.

“I woke up on the plane this morning and was turning on my phone and I had to put my pin number in. That’s when I realised that since the age of 10 I’ve been using 2012 as my pin number. But now that I’ve won gold in the 2012 Olympics, I’ve achieved that goal and, for the first time in 14 years, I’ll have to change my pin!” Van der Burgh, the winner of the 100m breaststroke in a world record time of 48.46 seconds, said.

Le Clos snatched gold in the final stroke of the 200m butterfly from American Michael Phelps, who has retired as the most successful Olympian in history with 18 golds and 22 medals overall, and the 20-year-old from Durban in KwaZulu-Natal said he was still coming to terms with beating his hero.

“It was a very special Olympic Games for me, and the last time I race against Michael Phelps. He is such an inspiration for me and the last time we met before the Olympics, I was asking him for hundreds of photos and his caps and goggles! I’m still a great fan of his and it was the most overwhelming feeling to beat him. It just shows that you should never give up on your dreams, no matter how far behind you are in the race,” Le Clos said.

Both swimmers committed themselves to ensuring South Africa build on their London success and win more medals in the pool at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. Le Clos added a silver medal in the 100m butterfly to lift South Africa to fifth in the table, ahead of aquatics powerhouses such as Australia and Russia.

“Chad and I spoke about it on the flight from London and we have the opportunity to change South African swimming, we really want to take swimming forward. South Africa only has five or six thousand registered swimmers, while Australia and Germany have 150 000 and the USA 300 000. But we still finished in the top five. There’s such a field of talent here, we just need to refine it better, we need to keep this momentum going and not kill it,” Van der Burgh said.

“In 2016, we’ll obviously have targets on our back, which means more responsibility and added pressure for us. But that just makes me excited to get back in the pool and train harder,” Le Clos said.

“There’s a lot of potential for 2016 and the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and we need to keep the momentum going. We have the platform now to build and we’ve changed the way people perceive swimming. We need to keep it going, let’s do this!”

South Africa’s head swim coach, Graham Hill, said he expected more success in 2016.

“We’ve only just begun and in 2016 these two young guys will be well and truly prepared, plus there’s a lot of young talent that wasn’t at these Olympic Games. So it all looks good for the future,” Hill said.

Van der Burgh also brushed off criticism that his mode of swimming the breaststroke included extra illegal “dolphin kicks” under the water.

“Unfortunately I’ve been the victim of some Australian press. I’ve never been disqualified or even warned once in my career and there were six different judges watching me in all my races from the heats to the final. They’re not there for a holiday and I was cleared,” Van der Burgh said.

With hundreds of supporters at the airport just after sunrise to welcome the swimmers home, even though it was a public holiday (Women’s Day) in South Africa, the air was thick with jubilation and Mbalula pledged further government support for swimming.

“We have got to prioritise going into the next Olympics and it begins tomorrow. We cannot plough money where we get no results, but swimming always delivers, even when all else fails. Government has got to come to the party and support young children who want to swim in Gugulethu or Mitchell’s Plain [deprived former apartheid townships].

“The media and public must put pressure on government to invest in sport, so we can compete with Australia and their 20-year sports plan. We did that easily at these Olympics with zero budget,” Mbalula said.


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