Cameron van der Burgh (25 May, 1988) is a South African swimmer and is considered one of the strongest breaststrokers in the world over short distance (50 and 100m breaststroke).
Van der Burgh’s first major international medal came at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, where he won bronze in the 50m breaststroke. In 2008, he captured the attention of the world’s swimming fans by winning the award for Best Male Swimmer Overall at the FINA-Arena World Cup (short course), in the process breaking three world records (short course) in Moscow and Stockholm.
On 9th November, 2008, in Moscow, the young South African champion clocked an outstanding 56.88 in 100m breaststroke, improving on Ed Moses’s 2002 record of 57.47 by almost one second. A day before at the same event, Cameron swam the 50m breaststroke in 26.08 in eclipsing Ukrainian Oleg Lisogor’s record of 26.17. Three days later in Stockholm, Van der Burgh became the first man in the world to break the 26-second wall in 50m breaststroke, swimming a time of 25.94.
But his rise to true international fame came with his 50m breaststroke title at the 2009 World Championships in Rome, where he won in a new world record of 26.67. At the same championships he also won a bronze medal in 100m breaststroke.
In 2010 the South African champion confirmed his international supremacy as one of the world’s strongest breaststrokers. At the October Commonwealth Games, he won gold in both the 50m and 100m breaststroke, and at the World Short Course Championships in Dubai in December, he won the world title for the 100m breaststroke, while picking up a silver medal at the 50m distance.
In a sports-mad country where team sports such as rugby, cricket, and football reign supreme, and where golfers such as Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen are the most revered amongst the individual sports, South African breaststroker Cameron Van der Burgh has achieved a rare feat – he’s a swimming celebrity. No doubt that has something to do with his three world records and two world titles, but he also has a smile, physique, and personality to go with it.
Aside from his achievements in the pool, he became the face of South Africa at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in India as he carried the country’s flag at the opening ceremony. By then, however, he had already become known as more than simply a world-class swimmer, having entered South African homes and hearts as Mr. February in The Cosmopolitan Sexiest SA Men Calendar 2010.
Born in Pretoria in 1988, Van Der Burgh still does most of his training in his home town, until 2009 with German Dirk Lange – who said of him that "he doesn't know the meaning of fear" – and currently under the guidance of top Japanese coach, Norimasa Hirai, mentor of Olympic champion breaststroker, Kosuke Kitajima. With a healthy respect for his rivals, Van Der Burgh has also developed friendships with some such as Norwegion Alex Dale Oen, who as a student of photography gives him tips on his passion beyond the pool, taking photographs of all the places on his travels.
He and Alex shared a nerve-wracking moment some time ago when a killer whale leapt out of the water just 10m away from the rubber tube they were being towed on. Other encounters with wildlife include finding himself sitting next to a baboon that invaded his family’s car looking for food – it found some licorice – when he and his family were holidaying in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. He was just 11. A few years later on a training camp as a 14-year-old, he recalls his toughest ever set, swimming 15km in a river just outside the same Kruger Park, in water he describes as “blisteringly cold” – while some of the younger swimmers were allowed to stop, he was “encouraged” to finish the set by the trainers who had already recognized his potential.
Clearly his trainers were right to keep him going – his massive potential has been amply realized, and with the London Olympics just a year away, who knows where it will take him next?