LALI VAN ZUYDAM, Kevin McCallum and Tim Whitfield
THOUSANDS of proud South Africans yesterday welcomed back the “Golden Boys” who touched down at OR Tambo International Airport. The men of the hour, swimmers Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos, were greeted with cheers, tears and applause. Fans, friends and family crowded them as they arrived.
“We knew there would be some [people] coming to greet us, but did not expect this,” Van der Burgh said. The Pretoria swimming star was the first South African to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games in London.
He came first in the 100m men’s breaststroke and broke the world record with a time of 58.46 seconds on July 29. “For the next four years, Chad and I are champions and no one can take that away from us,” he said his eyes filling with tears.
”I have wanted this since I was a child. I used to put pictures of swimming champions on my wall and hoped one day it would be me. Now is the first time it’s really sinking in.”
Twenty-year-old Le Clos sported his gold and silver medals. He beat American Olympic champion, Michael Phelps in the men’s 200m butterfly with a time of one minute, 52 seconds. Le Clos came second to Phelps in the men’s 100m butterfly with a time of 51.44 seconds.
“Michael Phelps is my hero. It was an amazing opportunity to get to compete against him because it was his last Olympic race. I have beaten my idol,” Le Clos said. Swimming coach, Graham Hill, said the past 11 weeks had been hard on the team.
“We spent eight weeks training in Europe before going to the Olympic village. We needed Cameron’s gold to make the team believe South Africa could do it and it seemed to have brought the team closer together,” he said.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, said the medallists walked the same path as many greats before them. “Like Penny Heyns and Ryk Neethling, you proved to the world South Africa can rise to the occasion.”
He also thanked the crowd “for coming out in your numbers to reaffirm that South Africa is a winning nation”, he said.
Sport unites South Africans, he said, and the swimmers’ success at the Games will cast a light on the need for financial support in sport. He appealed to the corporate and public sector to invest in sports.
“We know swimming has always produced results, we need to plough our money into that,” he said.
Asked about his alleged cheating, Van der Burgh confidently denied it. “I have never been disqualified in my life and my name was cleared,” he said.
André Botha, headmaster at Crawford College, said the school was proud that Cameron attended it. “This was absolutely awesome. So many of our students wanted to see Cameron arrive. He is a role model to so many,” he said.
Gudani Tshirhase, a prefect at the school, said they would love to have Van der Burgh return to his school for an honours evening.
“We are so proud of him, we even recorded his race so we can watch it over and over,” she said.
Asked about the future, both Le Clos and Van der Burgh agreed that the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games were now within their reach. “We have a lot of potential for the 2014 Commonwealth Games as well as the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The pressure will be on, but we are on top now and we want to keep it there. We now need to train even harder,” said Le Clos.
“For now, all I want is to take it all in and have a ‘tjop and dop’ with my family,” Van der Burgh said.
The rest of Team South Africa will arrive on Tuesday. A similar welcome home is planned by LeadSA for the rest of Team SA at the airport. Readers who want to share the special moment are asked to be at the airport at 7.15am.
l Kayaking star Bridgitte Hartley, 29, collected SA’s first ever Olympic canoeing medal. She hurt more than ever before during the 500m K1 kayaking final at the Olympics yesterday, but bagged SA’s fifth medal, a bronze. She had to recover from a poor start which left her sixth but her strong finish secured her third place.
l For an hour it looked as though the journey of Oscar Pistorius and his 4x400m relay teammates was over. Ofentse Mogawane had crashed out and the South Africans had not finished the race.
Pistorius, who was to run the third leg, waited for Mogawane but there was no sign of him. He and teammates Shaun de Jager and Willie de Beer saw a crumpled figure in the distance.
It was Mogawane, who had dislocated his shoulder in a fall. Pistorius walked off the track, his hands in his heads, denied what seemed to be a final chance to run in London.
Then came the news, almost 60 minutes later, the IAAF had agreed with Team SA’s athletics manager that the Kenyan Vincent Mumo Kilu had chopped across Mogawane’s line and obstructed him. They will be included as a ninth team in the final.
l Caster Semenya qualified for the final of the women’s 800m in the fastest time of 1 minute 57.67 seconds.
l Javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen finished fourth in the woman’s javelin final last night.
Viljoen was in second position after her first attempt of 64.53m, but failed to better the throw and Germany’s Linda Stahl took the bronze medal (64.91m).
German, Christina Obergfoll (65.16ms) won silver and the Czech Republic's Barbora Spotakova (69.55m) clinched the gold.
See Pages 21, 24