Swimming

Curtain comes down on Cameron van der Burgh's historic career

Van der Burgh to call it quits after his last race in China today

16 December 2018 - 00:03 By DAVID ISAACSON


The curtain is falling on SA's greatest double swimming act in history.
Cameron van der Burgh dives into the pool in Hangzhou, China, for the last time in his long international career today.
He was a cocky, unheralded 18-year-old on his first senior international tour when he landed his maiden world championship medal, a 50m breaststroke bronze, in Melbourne in early 2007.
Nearly 12 years, 12 world records, two Olympic medals, nine Commonwealth Games gongs and 16 world championship medals later, the 30-year-old will finish off as he started, in the 50m breaststroke, at the world short-course championships.
For most of his career Van der Burgh competed alongside Chad Le Clos and they allowed SA to punch above its weight. For example, they placed SA fifth on the swimming medals tables at the 2012 London Olympics and 2013 world championships.
Since Le Clos started hitting the podium at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, SA swimming quickly became the Cameron and Chad show.
They have bagged a combined six Olympic medals and 23 Commonwealth Games gongs. Their world championship haul was 36 by last night.
Before them SA swimming was topped by freestyle giants Roland Schoeman and Ryk Neethling, who competed together from 1998 until 2008, with Schoeman continuing into the new era until 2016.
Before Van der Burgh and Le Clos, it had been the Ryk and Roland show.
The medals they amassed were three from the Olympics, 15 from Commonwealth Games and 10 from the world championships. They were great swimmers - which puts the achievements of Van der Burgh and Le Clos into perspective.
Some swimmers avoid switching between competition in 50m long-course Olympic-sized pools and racing over 25m short-course laps.
But Van der Burgh made the transition easily, breaking 50m and 100m breaststroke world records in both formats; five were long-course and seven short-course.
He has fewer medals than Le Clos at all competitions except the long-course world championships, leading 10-5.
The greatest achievement by Neethling and Schoeman was the 4x100m freestyle relay where, along with Lyndon Ferns and Darian Townsend, they won Olympic gold at Athens 2004.
An Olympic relay medal was the only prize to elude Van der Burgh and Le Clos, and it was a tragedy, quite frankly.
The duo offered SA the fastest middle 200m of the 4x100m medley relay in the world, because of the second breaststroke leg and Le Clos's butterfly in the third.
But with no backstroker and no freestyler to start and finish, they never got to cash in on this advantage.
The best they managed were three Commonwealth Games medley medals, none of them gold.
Van der Burgh matured quickly in the pool after a disappointing campaign at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where, to accommodate US TV, the heats were held in the evenings and the finals in the mornings.
Excited after breaking the African record in the heats, he struggled to sleep properly and was eliminated in the morning semifinals after going slower.
His heat time would have got him into the final.
But he bounced back quickly with the first of his world records a few months later.
He plotted his assault on the 2012 Olympic gold to perfection.
Le Clos beat Michael Phelps at those Games to win the 200m butterfly gold, but the truth is that he was aided by the American legend making a mistake at the finish.
But there was nobody to challenge Van der Burgh, who produced the world record he had planned to do in the final.
A fierce competitor in the water, Van der Burgh has been one of the friendliest swimmers outside the pool, always smiling and always bubbling with self-belief,
Now based in London, he will surely fly in his new hedge-funding career.
CAMERON'S INCREDIBLE RUN
FIRST WORLD RECORD
He broke his first world record on November 8 2008 when he clocked 26.08 in the 50m breaststroke (short course) at a World Cup meet in Moscow. The next day he went 56.88 to break the 100m record
SERIAL RECORD BREAKER
He broke six world records in less than four months in 2009, twice lowering the 50m (long course) mark in late July, then the 50m (short course) in August, the 100m (short course) in November and a few days later the 50m (short course) again
LONDON WARM-UP
In the build-up to the 2012 London Olympics, Van der Burgh clocked an impressive 59.73 in a warm-up race. Not wanting to give too much away to his rivals, coaches advised him to go slower, though fate stepped in and he fell ill for a few days
OLYMPICS
Van der Burgh clocked his 58.48sec 100m breaststroke world record at the 2012 London Olympics. The closest he got to that was 58.49 at the 2015 world championships
ADAM PEATY
He was unlucky to have Englishman Adam Peaty coming along when he did in 2014. Peaty was the Phelps of breaststroke, but Van der Burgh still beat him one last time at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

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