Van der Burgh’s time to shineComment on this story
Almost everything in Cameron van der Burgh's young life has been dedicated to winning a medal at the London Olympic Games.
Even his Olympic debut at the 2008 Beijing Games formed a small part of a master plan geared to this year's global showpiece.
The 25-year-old, however, has learned a lot over the last four years. He now believes it is less about the medal and more about the journey.
“I think I have come a long way since then,” Van der Burgh said this week.
“Each year I have made mistakes and learned new things.
“I have won some races and lost some races.
“I have learned that losing is part of winning and that you need to enjoy the journey as a medal is only an object.
“The memories that are attached to the object are what count.”
It was evident in Beijing that Van der Burgh would be one of South Africa's future stars when he became the first African swimmer to break the one minute barrier in the men’s 100 metres breaststroke.
Despite the impressive time, he failed to progress beyond the semi-finals, where he finished fifth and narrowly missed out on a place in the final.
“I was so excited last night that I only got to bed at 1am and had to get up at 6am,” Van der Burgh said after that race.
“I've learned a lot, but I'm the youngest in the field. Those guys are all 24 to 28 (years old). I think London is my time.”
Van der Burgh made his first real strides in the world swimming ranks when he broke both the 50m and 100m breaststroke short course world records later that year.
He also finished the season as the top men's swimmer in the 2008 Fina World Cup series.
The Pretoria-based swimmer went on to win the gold medal in the 50m breaststroke and bronze in the 100m breaststroke at the World Championships in Rome in 2009, and he clinched bronze medals in both events at last year's World Championships in Shanghai.
The current Commonwealth champion over one and two lengths, Van der Burgh was the first swimmer to break the 26-seconds mark in the 50m breaststroke – an event in which he holds the world record, though it's not an Olympic distance.
“It gives me good confidence knowing that I have the possibility to do well this year,” Van der Burgh said.
While he is considered a stronger short-course swimmer, he has made massive strides in long-course events.
He made waves in his build-up to the London Games, setting world-class times along the way, including a season's best of 59.73 seconds at the Mare Nostrum meeting in Barcelona last month.
Van der Burgh is touted as one of South Africa's strongest medal contenders, but he prefers to be seen as the underdog.
“I want to be able to stand on the pool deck after each race and feel proud to have swum, knowing that I gave every effort that I could and deserved the right to swim in the race,” he said.
“I believe in myself but by no means see myself as the favourite.
“I like being the underdog, as the pressure is off, and I am at a good point to chase without too much pressure.”
He added, however, that the pressure of expectation from the nation spurred him on to perform in the pool.
“I know my capability but having others put faith in me gives me more reason to perform,” Van der Burgh said.
“I want to do well for South Africa and I feel privileged to represent our country.”
The greatest challenge, he believed, would be to keep himself in check in the English capital, as he had learned from past experiences that he needed to contain his excitement.
“It is so easy to get ahead of oneself at the Games,” Van der Burgh said.
“The one that can control his emotions and use it best in his performance will do well.
“When I was young I got too far ahead of myself and too excited.
“I wasted a lot of energy thinking about the races instead of using it in the pool.” – Sapa