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Cameron fights 'inner battles' on path to silver

2016-08-08 17:30
Cameron van der Burgh (Gallo)

Rio de Janeiro - It was a swim that illustrated just why Cameron van der Burgh is an Olympic champion. 

He may not have won gold this time around, but the 28-year-old powered his way to a 58.69 swim in the 100m Breaststroke final on Sunday night (Monday morning, SA time) to claim silver and South Africa's first medal of the Games. 

The gold always belonged to Britain's Adam Peaty, who had set a world record in Saturday's heat that he then bettered in the final. 

But it had been a tough build-up to the Games for Van der Burgh and he was hardly convincing in the heats or semi-finals - his final time looked a long way away after the 59.21 he swam in the semis.

Having qualified third fastest for the final, he saved his best effort for last.

There was a clear sense of relief from Van der Burgh after the race as he spoke about the struggles - physical and mental - that had plagued his preparation. 

"My stroke is a bit all over the place at the moment. I don't feel so fluent ... I'm a bit stiff," he said, adding that he knew that he probably wasn't going to be able to compete for a gold given the circumstances.

"The race for a silver medal was still on and I'm super stoked that I was able to push through and win that mental victory.

"It's been a tough four years and there's been a lot of ups and a lot of downs but winning a medal is something that's tangible; something that you can hold to represent the struggles that you went through."

Van der Burgh said he had felt the expectation of a nation as South Africa waited patiently for its first medal of 2016.

"It's always hard to be the opener. There is a lot of pressure behind that and after the first day it was a little disappointing when some of the guys didn't make finals," he said.

"It's nice that I've pushed through and opened the gate so the guys can now build on the silver medal.

"Thank you to everybody that stayed up. I just put my phone on and I have a couple of 100 messages already ... I'll obviously try and get through to everyone and thank them for their support."

In the end, Van der Burgh swam his way onto the podium despite not feeling anywhere near his best.

"It's just to think of fighting those inner battles ... there are a lot of things that go on in your mind," he said reflecting on the build-up to the race.

"You really have to try and fight those off and believe in yourself and understand that you can only control what goes on inside of your body."

Van der Burgh is also set to take part in the 200m Breaststroke. Those heats take place on Tuesday.

Lloyd Burnard is Sport24's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro for the duration of the 2016 Olympics ...

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