London – South Africa’s two swimming medal hopefuls Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh made a promising start to the country’s campaign in the pool at the London Olympic Games on Saturday.
They were the only glimmer of hope in an otherwise disappointing performance by South African swimmers at the aquatics centre.
Le Clos, making his debut at the Games, recorded a personal best time of four minutes, 12.24 seconds (4:12.24) in the men’s 400
metre individual medley to advance to the final in the evening.
“I just wanted to make sure I made the final and paced myself with 1/8Ryan 3/8 Lochte,” Le Clos said after his heat.
“I knew he was going to be fast and I am sure they are going to be fast tonight.
“I’m just happy I made the final and that was the goal and we’ll see what happens from there.”
While Le Clos advanced to the finals, his compatriot Riaan Schoeman made an early exit from the Games after he finished sixth in the same heat in a time of 4:17.22.
He was the second fastest qualifier while 14-times Olympic medallist Michael Phelps was the slowest.
Twenty-year-old Le Clos has his work cut out in the final, when he will once again go head-to-head with Phelps and six-times Olympic medallist Lochte.
Phelps had a scare in the morning when he came close to missing out on a spot in the final with his time of 4:13.33.
“It is a personal best time for me so hopefully I can go a little bit faster. We’ll just see how it goes tonight,” Le Clos said.
“Hopefully I can just keep myself composed and be ready for the final.
“I feel really good and I am happy to be here Ä it's a great feeling.”
Van der Burgh, who is tipped to be South Africa’s strongest medal contender, breezed through his heat to book a place in the evening’s semi-final.
He posted a time of 59.79 seconds to take him a step closer to his dream of winning an Olympic medal.
“Everybody is nervous. You’ve been preparing for the last four years to get to this point so it is nice to see what shape you are in,” Van der Burgh.
“The goal for me this morning was to come first or second and just make sure I make the final.”
Van der Burgh said he held back a bit to conserve his energy going into the semi-final and the final.
“Swimming 100m breaststroke, if you go 59.7 or if you go 58.5 it feels the same,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kathryn Meaklim was close to tears after she failed to progress past the preliminary round in the women’s 400m individual medley, posting a pedestrian 4:43.46.
“It was a really bad race and I am not really happy at all but it happens,” Meaklim said.
She has a last chance to stay in the Games when she lines-up in the 200m individual medley on Monday.
Middle distance swimmer Heerden Herman also got stuck in his 400m freestyle heat, finishing last in a time of 3:57.28.
He will also get a second chance when he takes to the pool in his specialist 1500m event on Friday. – Sapa