A few hours after he had won gold in the 100m breaststroke, Cameron van der Burgh was stopped by the army as he walked into the Olympic Village on Sunday night, suspected of carrying a foreign object about his person.
“We played a trick on the army guys there,” smiled Van der Burgh. “They’re there night and day. They work so hard for us.
“As we walked through the metal detectors I put the medal on the inside of my jacket and they went, ‘wait, stop, stop’. So, I unzipped it and they saw the medal and they were all going crazy. It was nice to bring them a bit of joy and definitely made their day.”
Walking into the Village has been “so weird” for Van der Burgh. “Everybody wants to take pictures and for me, I was lucky to do what I could do, and lucky enough to come out the best. I still feel like I’m the same guy. I don’t feel any different in the sense that I’m any different from anybody else. What I can achieve can be celebrated, I guess.”
As he was talking, Gideon Sam of Sascoc was picking up the medal to have a look when a journalist told him to stop trying to steal it.
The laughter rocked the room at the Kensington Hotel were Sascoc have set up their headquarters. They queued up to have their pictures taken with Van der Burgh on Monday. He may not feel different, but his life most certainly now is as he will forevever be known as an Olympic medallist. It is not a mantle he treats lightly. He knows that with great success comes great responsibility.
“I woke up (yesterday) morning and it was like I had a brand-new baby sitting here. It’s something that I am going to carry for the rest of my life, and something that I am going to have to be responsible with. I’m going to have to adapt my lifestyle now to this kind of thing. It’s just like having a kid. I’m really grateful for everything.”
Van der Burgh only just held back the tears on the podium after he was handed his gold medal and listened to the national anthem on Sunday night. On Monday he came close to choking up as the realisation of what he had achieved fought with his emotions.
“I reached for the stars last night. Fourteen years of hard work and dedication paid off last night in 58.46 seconds. It’s definitely the perfect ending to my fairytale.
“I asked Ryk (Neethling, the 2004 gold medallist in the 4x100m freestyle) if the buzz of winning a medal ever changes, and he said that it never changes.
“To become an Olympic champion is the same as being knighted, becoming a sir.”
Arise, Sir Cameron, Knight of the long pool and carrier of South African dreams. – Pretoria News