Can Cameron and Chad kickstart the gold rush in Rio?
STEPPING onto the pool deck in Rio, Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh could make or break South Africa’s hunt for Olympic silverware.
Van der Burgh won the 100m breaststroke gold medal in a world record time two days into London 2012. His time sparked a medal frenzy, with the team claiming four in the first week of the Games.
Le Clos’ giant-slaying swim two days later arguably overshadowed Van der Burgh’s impressive feat, after he famously out-touched iconic American Michael Phelps by 0.05 seconds in the 200m butterfly final.
Phelps would get one over the young pretender, winning the 100m butterfly with the South African earning silver.
Van der Burgh and Le Clos will spearhead a 14-strong contingent in Brazil.
Le Clos opens his account in the 200m freestyle before he looks to defend his title in the 200m fly. The event is shaping up to be one of the highlights with the Phelps-Le Clos rematch dominating the narrative.
The duo have not faced off since London with the American making a stunning return from retirement.
It would be naïve to think it will be a two-horse race between the heavyweights, with world champion Laszlo Cseh of Hungary also expected to challenge for the title.
Cseh tops the world rankings with a season’s best of 1:52.91. Le Clos and Phelps rank fourth and sixth with times of 1:54.42 and 1:54.84 respectively.
Le Clos heads to Rio as the undisputed 100m butterfly champion – he has not lost a major championship since London 2012.
Cseh again tops the rankings with his time of 50.86 and is followed by Phelps in second with 51 flat. Le Clos swam the third-fastest time this year with his 51.09.
Phelps could be going for his fourth consecutive title in the 100m butterfly, while Le Clos would also like to extend his unbeaten run in the two- lap contest.
Meanwhile, South African freestyle specialist Myles Brown will be looking to set the pace when he aims to qualify for the 400m final at his maiden appearance at the Games on the opening day.
Van der Burgh will launch his title defence on the first day in the 100m breaststroke.
His tussle with British world record holder Adam Peaty has the makings of one of the great Olympic rivalries.
Peaty was the first 100m breaststroker to break the 58-second barrier, knocking almost half-a-second off Van der Burgh’s record in a time of 57.92 in 2015.
The Briton will be going to Rio as the world champion and will take aim at the South African’s Olympic title.
Van der Burgh has rekindled his love for the sport after dominating the Fina World Cup with an unbeaten run and beating Peaty at the final event of the series in Dubai.
Peaty boasts the world-leading time of 58.36, with rising American Kevin Cordes’ 58.94 ranking him second going into the Games.
Van der Burgh’s preparations hit a snag due to illness with the star missing two meets in Europe last month.
US-based swimmer Christopher Reid emerged as a dark horse at the South African swimming championships in Durban earlier this year when he smashed Gerhard Zandberg’s national 100m backstroke record in 53.12.
Reid’s time is the 11th-fastest in the world this year and he will have to dip well below 53 seconds for a place in the Olympic final and a possible shot at a medal.
Le Clos, Van der Burgh, and Reid could also be a part of a potent 4x100m medley relay team, but they would need a strong freestyle swimmer for a chance of a podium finish.
Other than Le Clos, no other freestyler has been able to come close to a sub-49 seconds over two laps, which would be a minimum requirement for the quartet to earn a place in the final.
CAMERON VAN DER BURGH: Renews Peaty rivalry
CHAD LE CLOS: Ready for Phelps rematch