Pietermaritzburg - For Olympic gold medallist Cameron van der Burgh, waking up next to his medal the morning after his 100m breaststroke win was “like waking up next to a beautiful woman”.
And given a choice between which sight he would rather take in first thing in the morning, the heavy chunk of gold-plated metal would be it.
“Definitely the medal,” he said, no hint of indecision in his voice, and his expression steely and serious. “I have sacrificed so much for it.”
Although recovering from flu, 24-year-old Van der Burgh was relaxed on Thursday, before this weekend’s qualifier for the 11th Fina World Champion-ships to be held in Turkey in December.
He and fellow gold medal winner Chad le Clos were among the swimmers staying at the Golden Horse Casino in Pietermaritzburg, preparing for the SA Short Course Championships to be held in the city.
Leaning back in his chair, with his hands behind his head, Van der Burgh explained why being an Olympic gold medallist held more value than the gold medal reward of R400 000 from the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc).
“For the rest of my life, I will be known as an Olympic champion. It’s like being knighted and called ‘Sir’… I am really grateful for the incentive (from Sascoc), but the medal is worth more.”
Worth more than money? Perhaps, But is it enough? Not exactly.
“I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who won a gold medal, but as the guy who left a legacy, who turned swimming around in the country. At the moment people are now interested in swimming (as a sport), so we have to keep that momentum going.
“Before this, we never had an Olympic culture, but now we have instilled that. We have so much talent here in South Africa.”
However, it is not only the future of swimming that Van Der Burgh wants to influence, but the financial gains associated with it, and having an Olympic gold, he believes, is a stroke in the right direction.
“You have to first put in the hard work. Sponsorships will only come in when you get the results,” he said, emphasising that he was “well looked after”.
Quoting his manager, former Olympic gold medalist Ryk Neethling, Van der Burgh said the medal should be able to generate R2m to R4m a year from sponsorships, retainers and bonuses.
He conceded that the rewards could be considered “unfair” when compared with the substantial amounts of money paid to local soccer and rugby players.
“But I can’t complain [about the R400 000 incentive]; it’s better than R200 000. And Sascoc always said that the reward would be R400 000. Besides, they have been funding me for the past three years, so now I was able to pay them back,” he said.
Van der Burgh said his medal – which is going to be put in safe keeping at a banking institution – was also a way of thanking his family who had footed much of the bill for his years of training, and had made many sacrifices for him to attain his success.
“This medal means everything to me… Even if I was to become a hobo, I would be a hobo with a medal,” he laughed.
Meanwhile, Durban’s Olympic gold and silver medal champion, Le Clos, said he had not decided if he would go to the matric dance of a Joburg matric pupil who asked him to accompany her when he arrived home last week.
“A decision will only be made next week. I cannot comment further on that,” Le Clos told The Mercury on Thursday.
Beeld reported that Melanie Olhaus, 17, a pupil at Glenvista High School, held up a poster, which read: “Chad, will you be my matric dance date?” - The Mercury