Cameron wins but Oscar stutters
IF FORM is anything to go by, South Africa will win more Olympic medals in the pool than on the track in London next month.
Cameron van der Burgh had a winning start to the Mare Nostrum swimming series in Barcelona on Saturday, dipping under one minute in the 100m breaststroke.
Coincidentally, his 59.7sec effort broke the meet record held by his late friend Norwegian Alexander Dale Oen. Van der Burgh, from whom a bunch of medals has been stolen, was chuffed.
"First medal replaced and no greater honour doing it than by breaking Alex's meet record," tweeted the swimmer, who also broke the gala's 50m breaststroke record. The 100m breaststroke is an Olympic event, but the 50m is not.
Van der Burgh had said before leaving South Africa last week that, considering that he was still in hard training, he would be happy with 60 seconds in the 100m.
The man is clearly on form - and that's a place some of the country's top athletes can only dream about right now.
Oscar Pistorius, who has shared his low-carbohydrate, performance-enhancing diet with Van der Burgh, is just one race away from qualifying in the 400m. But he was nowhere at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, the fourth leg of the Diamond League.
Lining up against a strong field that featured world champion Kirani James, Olympic champ Lashawn Merritt, European champ Kevin Borlee, 2004 Olympic champ Jeremy Wariner and Olympic hurdles champion Angelo Taylor, Pistorius, the Paralympic champion, trailed from start to finish.
There was a delay initially when James false-started. Despite being red-carded, he ran anyway. He was pipped to the post by Merritt in a modest 44.91 - only 16-hundredths of a second quicker than Pistorius's 45.07s personal best.
James crossed the line in second place, but his disqualification stood. Christopher Brown of the Bahamas was the official runner-up and he was the only other athlete to beat the 45.30sec Olympic qualifying time; Pistorius clocked 46.86.
"I went out too slow," Pistorius said. "Technically it wasn't a great race ."
Some may argue that the time to peak is in London, but some of the world's top athletes are showing scintillating form already.
Usain Bolt cracked the best 100m time in the world this year when he went 9.79 in Rome on Thursday, unlike his "pedestrian" 10.04s in Ostrava a week earlier.
In Eugene on Saturday, China's Liu Xiang, the 2004 Olympic champion, broke 13sec in the 110m hurdles for the first time in a few years as he went 12.87.
The good news for South Africa is that Sunette Viljoen did well in the javelin on Thursday, posting the second-best distance in the world this year, and Khotso Mokoena, South Africa's Olympic long-jump silver medallist in 2008, sealed his Olympic qualification. They will carry the country's hopes in the field events.
But Caster Semenya, who should be South Africa's safest bet for an Olympic medal, was an also-ran as she again failed to break two minutes in the women's 800m on Thursday. LJ van Zyl, after his sub-48sec runs in the 400m hurdles last year, is still struggling to break 50sec.
Both won medals at the world championships last year - Semenya a silver and Van Zyl a bronze - but right now, few would bet on either making the podium in London.