BARCELONA (AFP) – A year on from claiming his lifelong dream of Olympic gold in London, South Africa's Cameron Van der Burgh has validated his status as one of swimming's leading lights with gold and silver in the 50m and 100m breaststroke respectively at the world championships in Barcelona.
The 25-year-old admitted to surprising even himself this week after taking six months off to recover post-Olympics and then being hampered by shoulder and knee injuries in his preparation for the championships in the Catalan capital.
Van der Burgh edged out rival Christian Sprenger by just one hundredth of a second to take gold in the 50m on Wednesday, 48 hours after being pipped by the Australian in the 100m, and in an exclusive interview with AFP, the Pretoria based swimmer is looking forward to more battles with Sprenger as the two could potentially clash at both the Pan Pacific championships and Commonwealth Games next year.
"It's nice that in the last two years he has come on leaps and bounds.
"I am really happy for guys when they find the perfect blend between swimmer and coach, I think that is the most important thing for an athlete when the programme combines well with the talent.
"He is a tough competitor and I am more motivated by him to train even harder now."
Van der Burgh though has no intention of abdicating his Olympic title and hinted he could even dip his toe into the 200m at the Commonwealths in Glasgow with an eye to an attempt at double Olympic gold in the 100 and 200m in Rio.
"It's amazing to be seen amongst the top guys, it is something you cherish and as you get older you realise that it is not going to last forever.
"Breaststrokers peak normally between 24 and 28 so I have another few years at the top and that's why I am so motivated now to stay there and keep winning gold medals rather the odd bronze here and there I was a few years ago.
"My coach Dirk (Lange) and I were saying that my endurance is coming along so well that I might even give the 200m a shot in Glasgow."
And following Olympic and world titles, Van der Burgh's focus is now on marking his name in the history books with a world record in the 100m.
"A year ago when I said I was going to go 58.4 seconds people said I was stupid and now I say I'm going to go 57 seconds it's the same.
"The level of competition in breaststroke has improved so much and there is so much pressure on us to keep improving, we are on the verge of world records all the time.
"Everyone wants to be at the top, but I think it is good for the sport that we can push the boundaries all the time."
Van der Burgh's victory came on a golden night for South African swimming all round as he was joined on the podium by his training partner Giulio Zorzi, whilst Chad le Clos also backed up the 200m butterfly gold he won in London by winning his first world championship gold in the same event.
Le Clos and Van Der Burgh's efforts alone have propelled South Africa into fourth in the medal table in Barcelona despite a difficult year when the governing body of the sport in the country lost its major sponsor and many athletes faced the prospect of having to pay their own way if they wanted to compete at the championships.
"For a country like South Africa just to win one gold medal is obviously an amazing thing. We don't have as many swimmers and if you look at the pro-rata of swimmers to medals in comparison to the likes of the USA and Australia I think we do really well.
"Originally it was the case that a lot of them would have to pay their own way to come.
"Luckily Chad and I are well looked after by the Olympic foundation. However, it is a double-edged sword for those further down because to get funding they need to be ranked top eight in the world, but to be top eight in the world you need the funding.
"In the end they found some sponsors, but they are still struggling and need more sponsors.
"The swimmers have done their bit and now it's up to the administrators to keep the sport growing in South Africa."