Johannesburg – South African sensation Chad le Clos was the pick of the country's swimmers this season, making international headlines when he beat Olympic legend Michael Phelps at the London Games.
“I've lived my dream of competing against Michael Phelps, who's been a hero to me growing up,” Le Clos said of his amazing feat.
“The first race that I swam Ä the 200 metres fly Ä was the race that he (Phelps) hadn't lost for nine, 10 years and for me to go out and win that race was a bit of a shock to me.”
While Le Clos, who won gold and silver at the Games, was basking in his new-found fame, compatriot Cameron van der Burgh already had two more titles behind his name as Olympic gold medallist and world record holder in the 100m breaststroke.
In the build-up to the Games it was predicted that Van der Burgh would make a serious claim for gold in London while Le Clos was tipped to at least make the top three in one or two disciplines. Both stood up and delivered beyond expectation.
Van der Burgh claimed South Africa's first medal at the Games in emphatic style as he set a new world record of 58.46 Ä 0.12
seconds faster than the previous mark held by Australian Benton Rickard.
He also became the country's first male swimmer to win a gold medal in an individual event at the Games.
The 24-year-old's performance in the semi-final the day before had indicated that he was on the cusp of achieving greatness when he broke the previous South African, African and Olympic records with a time of 58.95.
“I'm really grateful for everything. I reached for the stars last night,” Van der Burgh said after winning South Africa's first medal at the London showpiece.
“Fourteen years of hard work and dedication Ä it paid off in 58.4 seconds, and it's definitely the perfect ending to my story.”
His effort proved infectious as Le Clos' arm wrestle with Phelps turned out to be one of the most memorable moments of the Games.
The 20-year-old reached his maiden Olympic final in the men's 400m individual medley, finishing in fifth place.
However, it was in the 200m butterfly that he launched himself into the history books, edging Phelps by just 0.05 seconds to bag gold.
Three days later, Le Clos was narrowly beaten by Phelps for the 100m butterfly title, to earn a silver medal and confirm his meteoric ascent in the world swimming ranks.
South Africa's new-found star wrapped up his magical year as the toast of the country's swimmers at the Fina World Short Course Championships in Istanbul in December.
In the build up to the championships, Le Clos had to shake off a shoulder injury and a bout of bronchitis which left him under prepared.
With the nation's medal hopes resting solely on the youngster, he once again stepped up to the plate.
Le Clos, who had already been named South Africa's Sports Star of the Year, first clinched a gold medal in the 100m butterfly in a championship record time of 48.82, then added a silver medal in the 50m butterfly on the penultimate day to bring the curtain down on his golden year.
Van der Burgh and Le Clos' successes at the Games inspired Suzaan van Biljon, who made the final of the women's 200m breaststroke.
She faded, however, in the second half of the race to touch the wall in seventh place.
The previous day she had reached a milestone by breaking Penny Heyns' 13-year-old national record of 2:23.64 in the semi-final, finishing in 2:23.21.
Four-time Olympian Roland Schoeman proved he was still able to compete at the highest level when he took sixth place in the men's 50m freestyle final at the Games. – Sapa