SA swimmers shine at World Champs

3 August 2009

Gerhard Zandberg came third in the 50 metres backstroke on the final day of the 13th Fina World Championships in Rome as Team South Africa completed a haul of one gold medal, three bronze medals and 21 continental records at the event.

Zandberg was competing as the defending champion in the backstroke sprint on Sunday, but with the introduction of high-tech swimsuits, the landscape had changed significantly since he won the world title in Melbourne in 2007.

African record

However, he was seventh fastest after the qualifying heats in an African record of 24.68 seconds. That left Zandberg 0.19 seconds off the pace set by Brazil’s Guido Guilherme.

In the semi-finals, he equalled his recently established continental record with another time of 24.68, which was good for the sixth-fastest qualifying time for the final.

Then, in the medal deciding race, Zandberg improved significantly on his earlier swims. He clocked 24.34 seconds to secure third place comfortably. Great Britain’s Liam Tancock won gold in a world record time of 24.04, with Japan’s Junya Koga taking silver in 24.24.

Star of the team

The undoubted star of South Africa’s team was Zandberg’s roommate, Cameron van der Burgh.

The 50 metres breaststroke star contested the 100 metres before he took part in his favourite event. He was ninth-fastest in the opening qualifying round in a time of 59.54 that included a championship record 27.41 seconds for the first 50 metres.

Van der Burgh was even faster in the semi-finals, swimming a championship record 27.38 over the first 50 metres as he recorded the second-fastest time of 59.13 seconds.

59-second barrier

In the final, he had to settle for third, but he broke the 59-second barrier for the first time, touching the wall in 58.95. Australia’s Brenton Rickard won in a world record 58.58 seconds, with Hugues Duboscq of Canada second in 58.64.

Competing in his favoured 50-metre event, Van der Burgh established another championship record in the heats when he touched in the fastest time of 26.92 seconds.

In the semi-finals, the South African star was once again the fastest man in the water. He also won in a world record time of 26.74 seconds.

World record win

With the medals on the line, Van der Burgh enjoyed the best start in the field and raced away to victory in yet another world record time of 26.67. Brazil’s Felipe Franca Silva was second in 26.76, with the USA’s Mark Gangloff taking third place.

“It is just amazing to be a world champion,” Van der Burgh said afterwards. “I am just so happy as this is the biggest day in my life.”

Later, interviewed on radio station SAfm, he likened winning the world title to being in love with a beautiful woman.

Swimming World Cup overall winner

Previously, in November 2008, he claimed the men’s overall title in the Fina/Arena Swimming World Cup. During the course of the series he broke three short-course world records, including setting new marks at 50 and 100 metres.

While South Africa had gone throughout the entire Olympic programme in Beijing in 2008 without claiming a swimming medal, they didn’t have to wait long to pick one up in Rome.

Open water medal

Chad Ho secured a medal for the SA team before the pool events began when he captured South Africa’s first ever open water swimming medal at the World Championships – a bronze – in the five-kilometre race, in the early days of the 17-day programme.

South Africa finished 14th on the medal table and, taking the considerable number of African records established by the team into account, they deserve to feel satisfied with the results they achieved.

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