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Commentary by Jeff Commings
BARCELONA, Spain, July 31. IT was 7:50 p.m. in South Africa when Cameron van der Burgh invited his teammate Giulio Zorzi onto the top step of the medal podium at the FINA world swimming championships, and the two joined in a rousing chorus of the South African national anthem. Their countrymen and countrywomen likely were finishing up dinner at the time, and were likely adding a glass of wine to their post-dinner activities, to celebrate the end of a special day for South Africa.
It was one of the best — if not the best — days in the country’s history at the world championships. In addition to van der Burgh’s gold medal in the 50 breaststroke and Zorzi’s bronze medal in the same event, Chad Le Clos backed up his Olympic gold medal in the 200 butterfly with a win tonight in that race. Add van der Burgh’s silver medal and it’s become a banner day for the small African nation that has returned to becoming an internationally recognized superpower.
South Africa has always churned out great swimmers at the international level. Penny Heyns brought the country out of the apartheid years with double gold at the 1996 Olympics in the breaststroke event, and four U.S.-trained swimmers gave the South Africans an unexpected gold in the 400 free relay at the 2004 Games. Roland Schoeman was the individual star of that meet for South Africa, picking up silver in the 100 free and bronze in the 50 free.
While South Africa continued to have major stars make names for themselves, it hasn’t been this good for South Africa in many years, especially outside an Olympic year. I was probably not the only one surprised to see Myles Brown bearing the South African flag on his cap in the men’s 400 freestyle final, and we can still see another medal from Gerhard Zandberg in the 50 backstroke as he goes for medal number five in the event.
Van der Burgh is pretty much done for the meet (unless they can put together a top-eight team for the medley relay), but Le Clos still has the 100 fly to go. These two have done well in carrying the banner for their tiny country for the past three years, and will continue to do so on the road to Rio.
NCAA medal update: The University of California-Berkeley is showing their dominance here after four days of swimming at the FINA world championships. If you include open water swimming, the Golden Bears are in the lead over their Pac 12 rivals Southern Cal. Berkeley has 10 total medals (four gold, two silver, four bronze), while the Trojans have earned four medals (three gold, one bronze).
Here’s a list of the medalists so far from each university. The list does not include relay prelim-only swimmers.
Nathan Adrian: 400 free relay (silver)
Lauren Boyle: 400 free (bronze), 1500 free (bronze)
Natalie Coughlin: 400 free relay (gold)
Anthony Ervin: 400 free relay (silver)
Missy Franklin: 400 free relay (gold), 100 back (gold), 200 free (gold)
Jessica Hardy: 100 breast (bronze)
Dana Vollmer: 100 fly (bronze)
Haley Anderson: 5K (gold)
Katinka Hosszu: 200 IM (gold)
Ous Mellouli: 5K (gold)
Vlad Morozov: 400 free relay (silver)
Fred Bousquet: 50 fly (bronze)
Cesar Cielo: 50 fly (gold)
Conor Dwyer: 200 free (silver)
Ryan Lochte: 400 free relay (silver)
Megan Romano: 400 free relay (gold)
Shannon Vreeland: 400 free relay (silver)
Jimmy Feigen: 400 free relay (silver)
Michael McBroom: 800 free (silver)
Connor Jaeger: 400 free (bronze)
David Plummer: 100 back (silver)
Matt Grevers: 100 back (gold)
Eugene Godsoe: 50 fly (silver)