Perhaps Cameron van der Burgh should have shut up. Perhaps, when the Australian journalists waited in a little pack for him in the mixed zone, he should have said he was in a hurry and walked past them on his way out of the 2012 Olympics, settled down comfortably with a celebratory beer and simply wondered at the wonderfulness of it all.
Instead he stopped. And listened. And was honest. I listened to the interview. I recorded it. He did not avoid a question, he did not try to fob them off. He told them the truth of the thing. The Dolphin Kick. The way the Australians were going on about it, it and nothing else apparently won him gold in the 100-metres breaststroke, breaking the world record just for good measure.
Not once did any of the Aussie journalists ask Van der Burgh if he thought he was a cheat. They didn’t have to. You got the feeling they had already written the story before they decided to interview him.
Van der Burgh pointed out the glaring omission in their questions to him: ‘‘I think it’s pretty funny of the Australians to complain because in the underwater footage if you actually look at Brenton Rickard in the lane next to me, he’s doing the exact same thing as me, yet they’re turning a blind eye to it.”
Rickard was the former world record holder and afterwards he refused to call Van der Burgh a “cheat”, despite the questioning by the Australian journalists trying to lead him that way. The footage shows Rickard kicking at around the same time as Van der Burgh. If there had been cameras covering every single lane then there is little doubt that it would have shown that all eight in the final used the fly-kick.
Christian Sprenger, the Australian who took silver, would have done it. Kosuke Kitajama, Japan’s four-time Olympic gold medallist, would have done it. In fact, Kitajama is the swimmer who started the whole “dolphin kick” thing, and he is considered one of the greats of the sport. Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer, does it. But the Australians were miff.
“While other swimmers in the footage had done multiple kicks, Van der Burgh is the worst offender,” wrote someone with no name on news.com.au. Perhaps they were suddenly embarrassed when they eventually realised that they were making a massive fuss over something that was, in fact, common practice.
“Swimming Australia officials refused to buy into the issue, knowing nothing can be changed because of Fina rules. But it is understood that members of the team are aware of the controversy.”
Ah, “it is understood”, which is hack-ese for, “we hope”. They had pulled off a hack job of note. A few of the South African swimmers suggested that the Australian media were annoyed that they were having such a poor meet, having won just one gold medal in the pool, which put them below South Africa in the medal table for swimming. Nah, they wouldn’t do that, would they? Not the Australian media. Not the same lot who took an outburst by Roland Schoeman at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and turned it into a racial incident.
Schoeman had said that the bit of the crowd that had shouted before the start of the 50m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games had acted like “monkeys”. The Australian newspaper reported that South Africa “may be bracing for a full-scale diplomatic incident” over the swimmer’s outburst. That didn’t happen. Sascoc accepted Schoeman’s explanation, just as they have accepted Van der Burgh’s.
Van der Burgh told the pack of Australian journalists that, given that Fina were not policing the dolphin kick, all of the swimmers were doing it. It doesn’t make it right, he said, but it does make it necessary.
He was stitched up a treat by the Australian press. He may not be quite so generous with his time when it comes to dealing with Aussie hacks next time around.