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Swimming duo lifts national pride, rest of Team SA inspired

The Times Editorial | 2012-08-02 00:16:59.0

The Times Editorial: We had hardly stopped celebrating Cameron van der Burgh's gold medal than Chad le Clos had another for us. This one was not only unexpected, it was achieved against one of swimming's true greats, Michael Phelps.

A medal for Van der Burgh in the 100m breaststroke had been more or less expected: perhaps a bronze, hopefully a silver. When it turned out to be gold, it was a bonus. Sunday night's victory became Monday morning's big talking point.

Two days later, we dared to hope that Le Clos might follow in the 200m butterfly. Don't get your hopes up, the experts warned. If he wins a medal, especially with Phelps in the race, it will be a rare achievement.

So we listened, but got quite excited when Le Clos was up with the leaders at the start. Then, as he fell behind, we lowered our expectations but became sanguine again as he turned third for the final length. A medal, even a bronze, was within his reach, surely?

Nothing, however, prepared us for the drama of that final length. There are now suggestions that it could become a YouTube classic as Le Clos began to reel in first Takeshi Matsuda and then Phelps. The finish came almost in a blur - Phelps gliding in, Le Clos summoning his last bit of strength to reach for the finish, and pip the great American by five-hundredths of a second. As sports scientist Ross Tucker has pointed out, the gold medal was not won by any failure by Phelps, but because Le Clos, in true Olympic style, had gone faster.

So, after just four days of the London Olympics, South Africa has doubled its medal count from Beijing in 2008, when the country's only medal was a silver by long-jumper Khotso Mokoena.

Le Clos and Van der Burgh have done more than win medals and made the nation feel good about itself; they have inspired those South African medal prospects still to come at the Games. There is an outside chance in the rowing today and in the athletics next week.

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