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South African gold medalist admits he broke rules in world-record race

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer
Cameron van der Burgh broke the rules but said almost everyone does it. (US Preswire)

South African Cameron van der Burgh set a world record last week when he touched the wall in 58.46 seconds during the 100-meter breaststroke final.

But is the record -- and his gold medal -- now tainted?

That could very well be the case, but not for the reason some might think. In the aftermath of his success, van der Burgh has admitted to using an underwater swim technique that presumably cut off a few precious milliseconds on his turn for the final 50 meters.

Also turns out he's not the only one. See, swimmers are stalked by men and women -- swim officials -- just above the pool. They lurk. They peer. They're making sure the swimmers aren't using techniques deemed illegal, as said techniques can give swimmer a boost in the water. It's why the turns/swim strokes in the breast, freestyle, back and butterfly look different.

In breaststroke, van der Burgh's race, the dolphin-kick move isn't as liberally allowed like it is in freestyle. But van der Burgh did it anyway -- and he said most of his other competitors did as well. A swimmer is allowed one dolphin kick after the push from the wall. Van der Burgh took three.

More from the Sydney Morning Herald:

‘‘If you're not doing it, you're falling behind. It's not obviously - shall we say - the moral thing to do, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it,'' van der Burgh said. ‘‘I think every single swimmer does that. At the point in time before the 'fly kick was legal [when swimmers weren't allowed any dolphin kicks at all], [Japan's four-time Olympic gold medallist Kosuke] Kitajama was doing it, and obviously the Americans were complaining.

‘‘I think it's pretty funny of the Australians to complain because in the underwater footage if you actually look at Brenton Rickard in the lane next to me, he's doing the exact same thing as me yet they're turning a blind eye.

...

‘‘I think only if you can bring in underwater footage that's when everybody will stop doing it because that's when you'll have peace of mind to say, 'All right I don't need to do it because everybody else is doing it and it's a fair playing field.'"

Asked how many were doing an illegal amount of dolphin kicks, he said: ‘‘Everybody's doing it ... not everybody, but 99 per cent.''

Van der Burgh said two years ago at a World Cup event in Sweden the underwater technology was used and ‘‘it was really awesome, because nobody attempted it [the dolphin kick]'' and ‘‘everybody came up clean and we all had peace of mind that nobody was going to try'.'

‘‘I'm really for it. If they can bring it, it will better the sport. But I'm not willing to lose to someone that is doing it.''

The South African isn't going to lose his gold over this because there is no replay/appeal system in place to warrant a repeal of the medal. Plus, if there was, judges/officials would likely find most, if not all, swimmers in that 100 breast final used more than one dolphin kick.

The solution to this is clearly to get to a point where technology helps aid the sport. Underwater cameras can catch all swimmers, and if anyone's seen doing an illegal move beneath the pool, well than wah-lah. Disqualifications right then and there, and suddenly everything's a lot less debatable.

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