Heroes' welcome for SA swimming champs

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Johannesburg - South Africa's Olympic gold medallists, Cameron van der Burgh and Chad Le Clos, arrived home on Thursday morning to a warm welcome from a cheering crowd at OR Tambo International Airport.

The crowds, who braved the chilly weather, were blowing vuvuzelas, waving the South African national flag and displaying placards which read: "We are proud of you Chad and Cameron...Welcome back golden boys".

When their flight touched down at 7am at OR Tambo International Airport from London -- where the two swimming champs scooped gold medals -- Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula was the first to welcome them.

Looking emotional and completely surprised by the huge crowd, van der Burgh said: "We didn't really expect this... It was so amazing to walk out here and see this huge crowd. Chad and I could not believe that this is for us, the support has been overwhelming."

Van der Burgh received a gold medal in London after winning the 100m breaststroke in a world-record time of 58.46 seconds.

Le Clos, who was in a jovial mood while displaying both his silver and gold medals, also used the opportunity to show the country his appreciation.

"I just want to say to all the women out there -- Happy Women's Day. The support that we received from home while in London was so incredible; it meant so much to us, we really appreciate it."

Le Clos beat United States swimmer Michael Phelps to the gold medal in the 200m butterfly final on July 31 and after three days, he won a silver medal, tying for second position in the men's 100m butterfly in 51.44 seconds.

Asked how he felt after beating the most decorated Olympian (Phelps) of all time with 22 medals, Le Clos said: "A lot of people know that Phelps is my hero and when he won the gold medal in Athens (2004), I was 12-years-old. I could not believe that I beat him, but I wanted [to] because gold is fantastic."

Le Clos said after getting out of the pool, Phelps gave him some words of encouragement.

"He also wished me luck for the future ..." said Le Clos.

Mbalula praised South Africa, calling it "a winning nation" - much to the excitement of the crowd.

"South Africa is a winning nation. Today our people are gathered here and everywhere in the country with joy... Sport unites our people; it is a time [to] come together to celebrate and remember that we are South Africans.

"You will go down in history as heroes of our people, you are real heroes... You've got a bright future... You got the first medals for South Africa at the Olympics and we are proud of that."

Mbalula encouraged South Africans to increase their support for sporting teams.

"...We might not get the target of 12 medals set by Sascoc, but already there's gold... thanks to Chad and Cameron. Long live to them and the rowing team."

The Olympians who are still competing in London will come back home on Tuesday. The Olympics wrap up on 12 August.