Born on 25 May 1988, in Pretoria South Africa, Cameron van der Burgh grew up in a world of make-believe with an overactive imagination and a busy, busy mind. He couldn’t sit still for long and recalls his biggest punishment as being sent to his room on a timeout. He was like many other boys his age but Cameron’s diagnosis with ADD thankfully came with an alternative treatment to brain-altering drugs: swimming. What was meant to calm him down and give his brain something else to concentrate on, became the biggest catalyst for the life of a World Champion, a Commonwealth Champion, and an Olympic Champion.
It almost didn’t happen though for just as Cameron’s love and natural talent for swimming started to surface, he broke his ankle.
You can’t swim with only one good ankle.
A young career in jeopardy.
But for someone with the ‘steely determination, single-minded focus and unwavering dedication’ that Cameron has been said to have (on many, many occasions), this was not going to change the future. With a healed ankle and hours, days, months, and years of training and rehab behind him, Cameron qualified for his first World Champs in 2007, returning home with a bronze medal. In 2008 he qualified and competed in the Beijing Olympics, without placing, and by 2009 was well on his way to a World Record at the South African nationals. It was also the year he won his first Major International Title when he raced the 50m breaststroke in Rome.
Cameron’s swimming career soon began its very fast trajectory to secure him as one of the best swimmers the world has ever seen. As the first home-trained world record holder and Olympic champion in Africa, this was no small feat.
2010 saw him win the gold, and break the record, at the Commonwealth Games for 50m breaststroke. That same year he took gold at the World Short Course Championships for 100m breaststroke and in 2011 Cameron took gold at the South African National Championships, setting the world’s leading time.
London came calling in 2012 and for these Olympic Games, Cameron was ready to head her call, breaking the World Record and taking home gold in the 100m breaststroke.
The 2013, 2015, and 2017 World Championships totalled five medals with the 2016 Rio Olympics resulting in a silver for 100m breaststroke, just behind heavy favourite and rival, Adam Peaty.
This year, Cameron swam his final laps at a Commonwealth Games and explained his 50m win over Adam Peaty as the most emotionally memorable of all his swims. Looking back at his 11-year career, Cameron remembers more animosity and competition between team players than support and celebration. As a senior in the South African National team, he made it his duty to punt and teach the others about the importance of team support. According to him, nobody should ever have to swim a final alone. His team took to his thinking well, and Cameron was accompanied by what he called a ‘little possy,’ (boombox and all), to his final 50m swim. After touching the wall in first place, Cameron turned to celebrate to his team members, again showing the power and strength of the group, as they cheered and celebrated his win as it were their own.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are fast approaching and Cameron has many post-retirement plans after his
life and career as a professional athlete and huge success. When asked what sport besides swimming he would have liked to be this successful him, Cameron hardly pauses to say surfing. With a love of water and a sport that chases summer, it’s no surprise why.
Almost two years ago, Cameron launched the sports and marketing consultancy, Touch58, which helps to guide marketing efforts to best leverage sports sponsorships. With a sponsorship track record like his, he surely knows a thing or two. Investec has been with him for over a decade, with Audi on six years and Samsung just over two. Plus, Arena has followed and supported him his entire career. He understands that the perception towards athletes is that they have no business acumen, and he wants to change this mindset.
Pending nuptials, in Athens, to his Greek Goddess in July of this year are currently keeping Cameron busy as well and his daily activities have changed from hours of swimming training to working in an office and taking his two dogs for walks on the promenade. The life of this Olympian has changed but his ambition, courage, and ‘steely determination’ remain.
Cameron loves a good surf and can be found pushing the limits of his body at Crossfit most days of the week. His favourite food is Greek food and his favourite drink is Chardonnay. Favourite colour? Blue, obviously. Favourite city, Cape Town, the place he currently calls home with Greece steadfast his favourite holiday destination.
From fidgety boy, to Olympic Champion, to entrepreneur, to husband; the world has been good to Cameron van der Burgh. And he has been kind to the world.