Cameron Van Der Burgh

Olympic & Commonwealth Gold Medalist

Cameron Van Der Burgh is a South African breaststroke sprint specialist and multi-time Olympian. He has won numerous World Championship titles, is a world record holder in the 50-meter breaststroke, and also recently won a siver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

On the 25th of May 1988, the future World and Commonwealth breaststroke champ started his domination plan from Jacaranda Maternity Home in Pretoria. Contrary to popular belief, ‘Killa Cam’ (as he’s known by his mates) wasn’t born with webbed toes, but he had another force of nature on his side: Beverley. His mom has been poolside his whole career: motivating, reinforcing and preparing more pasta than an Italian restaurant. This, and Cameron’s hardwired tenacity has helped him to become South Africa’s highest-ranked swimmer, the first Africa-based record-holder and our best bet for a gold medal in the London Olympic Games.

But in the early days, it wasn’t all about podium spots and fast German cars, he had his share of setbacks. A broken ankle and a loss of form meant he had to resort to Breaststroke for Dummies to get his fish skills back. But that just made him more determined. To give you an idea of just how hard this guy works, one of his first training camps as a youngster was in a dam in the Kruger Park where he swam 15km sessions in freezing water. Even then the coaches saw he was a talent for the future, and all this cold water turned him into an even tougher little tadpole. The next step in his Dr Evil-type masterplan to take over the world of swimming was to enlist the help of the best coaches in the world. Japan’s Norimasa Harai, Germany’s Dirk Lange and the original local swimming legend Ryk Neethling. Hell, he even has golden retrievers that are pretty quick in the pool. Skip forward a few years of local pool domination and then his talents became known to the worldwide press when he represented SA at the 2008 Summer Olympics, and then when he broke Oleg Lisogor’s 50m world record the next year.

But underneath the chlorine and lycra, there’s a few driving factors behind Cam’s success. One of them is the fact that he’s hyperactive, like a caffeine-crazy Pacman. As a kid he was on meds to help him concentrate, but then swimming became his solution. Even now he can’t sit still, but that’s who he is – you need to have energy to survive 35 hours of training a week, with sometimes more than seven hours of chasing lanes a day. He swims. Runs. Does yoga. Plays golf and surfs on his downtime. And he gyms. And boy, does he gym hard. The results of all this hard work: he holds a number of records; collects FINA and Telkom Swimming South Africa Aquatic Awards like stamps; has carried our flag during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in India and is our secret weapon for London.

This hard work has also resulted in another unexpected side affect: the media love him. That’s right, he’s been featured in more local magazines and newspapers than the Kardashians. He was Mr. February in the 2011 Cosmo Calendar, was profiled in Men’s Health and gave Janez swimming lessons for Top Billing. But all that isn’t just about his looks – he’s a genuinely great guy and a talent we can all be proud of. He chose to train in Pretoria (versus overseas) because it set a good example for the younger swimmers, and improved the profile of SA swimming. That takes guts and conviction, pretty special considering he’s only 24 years old. Yeah, he’s young, but just like his lookalike Graeme Smith, he’s not afraid of his age. Keep watching this space, he’s going to keep making us proud. – Arthur Jones

Achievements

2016 – Olympic Medalist – Silver
2012 – Olympic World Record Holder
2012 – Olympic Medalist – Gold
2010 – Commonwealth Games – Gold