NELSON Mandela Bay sports fans lined up yesterday to have their pictures taken with South African Olympic gold medallist swimmer Cameron van der Burgh.
Van der Burgh was in town as a guest of his sponsor, Audi, who invited him to address workers at the Volkswagen plant in Uitenhage. He was also invited to speak at a fundraising breakfast hosted by the Humewood Golf Club.
The Pretoria-born swimmer,who won the 100m breaststroke final in a world record-breaking time of 58.46sec, bagged South Africa’s first medal at the London Olympics.
He said it was his failure to win a medal at the previous Beijing Games that motivated him to go for gold this time.
“I knew I had more to give and kept on training. Last year I changed my training regime to prepare for this year’s games,” Van der Burgh said.
“For the next four years I need to focus, train hard and remain injury-free. When you are at the top, you need to cut back to zero and work your way up again.”
Van der Burgh, 24, said his Olympics experience was amazing.
“To be the first one to win a medal was amazing. The whole team supported each other – we bonded and united the country.
“The stadium channels the sound to the pool. I think that is the loudest noise I have ever heard. The Olympic village was also amazing. We had different cultures but everyone respected each other. There were about 10000 people at the dining hall,” he said.
“It was very special coming back home, seeing close to 10000 people at the airport. It was crazy.”
Van der Burgh, who has competed in every major competition since his 2007 debut, said he opted to stay in the country after he matriculated.
“At that time I was starting to attract sponsorships and when you are in American colleges, you cannot accept sponsorships or prize money,” he said.
“Beating the likes of Australia and the Brits who have multi-million budgets was great because we focused on what we have, not what we do not have. They came and ask how we did it. We just wanted it the most.”
He applauded Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula for giving the Paralympians the same incentives as the Olympians.
“It is a great gesture to give them the same money as us, because they train as hard,” he said.
Van der Burgh had some advice for Olympian swimmers in the making.
“It is important to swim all strokes when you are young. As a youngster, just enjoy the sport.
“Some kids end up swimming for their parents and end up not enjoying the sport.”
Van der Burgh’s schedule includes gymming from 8am until 10am, then physio until 11am. Then it is yoga or pilates between 2.30pm and 4pm and then the pool from 4.30pm.
“Do that for years and that’s how you become an Olympic champion,” he joked.