Cameron van der Burgh made history here in London Sunday, becoming the first South African man to win an individual Olympic gold medal in swimming. And he did it in world record fashion, touching the wall in 58.46 seconds in the 100 meters breaststroke final. His time took 0.12 seconds off the world record set by Australia’s Brenton Rickard at the 2009 world championships in Rome. In addition, van der Burgh’s gold was the first by an African athlete at these London Games.
Following his triumph, van der Burgh paid tribute to the late world champion swimmer Alexander Dale Oen of Norway, who died three months ago of heart disease at age 26. He and Oen were good friends, and he credits the Norwegian as being a mentor in international swimming. “When someone is in your life they always leave a part of them inside of you,” Van der Burgh said. “Tonight, I really felt him.”
The 24-year-old van der Burgh has also won nine world championship medals, including two gold, in his successful swimming career. He and Penny Heyns are the only South Africans to win individual swimming golds at the Olympics. Heyns won the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke events at the 1996 Atlanta Games.