Cameron van der Burgh clinched South Africa’s first medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and a gold one in world and Olympic record time to boot. The swimmer led the men’s 100m breaststroke final from start to finish to beat his own Olympic record – one that he had broken the evening before in the semifinal – and also shave 0.12 seconds off Australian Brenton Rickard’s previous world record mark, finishing with a time of 58.46.

Van der Burgh dedicated his victory to the late Norwegian world champion swimmer Dale Oen, who died in April of heart failure, aged only 26.

The 24-year-old from Pretoria said, “It’s a feeling I can’t describe right now, it has been a lot of work in the making. Everything has paid off tonight. I just have to pay tribute to Alexander Dale Oen tonight, I know he has been with me this year, I think he helped me finish the race in such a strong manner. If there is such a thing as the perfect race, I think I swam it at the right time tonight. Alexander pushed me in training, it made me realise I had to go faster to win the gold medal, that is what we trained for and that is what we have achieved.”

Australian Christian Sprenger finished behind van der Burgh in a time of 58.93, while the USA’s Brendan Hansenthird (59.49) took the bronze medal.

This year has been a tough one for Van der Burgh, who, in 2008, became Africa’s first home-trained world record holder and the youngest at the age of 20. Not only did he lose his friend and rival Oen, but his house was robbed in May, on his birthday, with thieves getting away with almost half his medals and trophies. He has clearly put these recent incidents behind him, which shows the character and strength of the man.

Van der Burgh trains with Dirk Lange, who also coaches the German swimming team, and he represented South Africa at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He is studying for a Bachelor of Commerce and Laws at the University of Pretoria.

The Arsenal fan carried the flag for South Africa at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, where he won the 50 metres and 100 metres breaststroke gold medals. He is now the world record holder for both those distances, and in both the long and short course variations of the stroke.

Van der Burgh becomes South Africa’s first male Olympic gold medallist in an individual swimming event, and he has another opportunity to win a gold medal, with the 4×100 metre medley relay final on Saturday, should the South African team qualify.

Photo by Wessel Oosthuizen/ SA Sports Pic Agency.

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