YOLANDE DU PREEZ
OLYMPIC gold medallist and former Glenstantia Primary pupil Cameron van den Burgh was overwhelmed yesterday to be treated like a hero by pupils at the school where his swimming career began.
More than a thousand screaming pupils welcomed Van der Burgh at the school’s newly refurbished swimming pool, which he formally opened.
He was also reunited with his first swimming teacher, Linda O’Kelly, who said he was a natural at breaststroke. “It is very difficult to teach breaststroke. (But) Cameron was just a natural from the moment he set foot in the pool,” she said.
Van der Burgh won SA’s first gold medal at 2012 Olympic Games in London, in the 100m breaststroke, and set a world record.
“This is the first pool I swam in. It is good to be back,” Van der Burgh said.
He encouraged pupils to dream big and reach for gold. Elaborating, he said the “G” in gold was for goal.
“When I was little I wanted to be as good as v– she won the 100m and 200m women’s breaststroke at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. I had a picture of her on my wall and made it my goal. Today I have achieved that goal.”
The “O” in gold was for owning it. “Take responsibility for what you do and make it yours.” The “L” in gold was for love. “Love what you do and you will make a success of it. I have the best job in the world and I love it,” he said.
The “D” in gold was for “do”. “Believe in yourself, find the job you love, even if it takes 10 years. Go out there and do it,” he said.
Deputy head girl Basetsana Tshwene had prepared a special poem for Van der Burgh and he was presented with a glass trophy to commemorate his visit to the school.
School principal Hennie Pretorius also handed him a collection of of notes and cards written by pupils.
While the pupils chanted “swim, swim, swim”, Van der Burgh moved around the pool greeting pupils, posing for photos and handing out autographs.
Pretorius said it was a great honour to have Van der Burgh at the school.
“The pupils idolised him and have been very motivated since the beginning of the Olympics,” Pretorius said.
“I don’t think Cameron realises the waves he has made. It has a tremendous ripple effect on the pupils at the school and they are more determined and focused.”
Afterwards Van der Burgh took a breather while the pupils enjoyed doughnuts – representing the Olympic rings – with icing in the South African colours, green and yellow.
Van der Burgh said swimming saved him from a life of taking medication.
“As a kid I used to be on Ritalin [for attention deficit disorder]. I would stare out the window for hours.
“Swimming was a way of dealing with my hyperactivity and I could express myself in the pool.”