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Swimmers feed off positive energy

By Gary Lemke

You sense something special building in Team South Africa as the hours tick away to the start of London 2012.

Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 311 in the Test against England down the road at The Oval and Ernie Els’ unlikely, but dramatic victory in the British Open had allowed for the chests to be puffed out with pride in the Olympic village.

The manner in which the Proteas then closed out the Test, by an innings and 12 runs, to edge ever nearer to that treasured world No1 ranking, has given the Olympic crop of 2012 more to be inspired about and cheer about.

Even the official welcome at the Olympic village, with the South African flag being raised, seemed to have much more positive energy and zip in it than at previous such ceremonies I’ve been to, starting with Barcelona ’92.

‘Village is unreal. You’re going to love it’, four-time Olympian Roland Schoeman told his 11,600 Twitter followers.

‘Arrival in the athletes village of the Olympic Games. so much to do and see. Sooo excited, oh my word,’ Kathryn Meaklim tweeted when the swimming squad arrived from Monaco last night.

‘Living large in the Olympic village!’ Cameron van der Burgh added on the social networking site.

Coach Graham Hill was equally upbeat at the flag raising welcome ceremony on Monday afternoon.

‘We’ve had a great preparation and are raring to go. This team is a mix of youth and experience and there’s a fantastic bond that’s glued them together. We’ve just come from Monaco where we were hosted by {2000 Olympian] Charlene Wittstock ÔÇô aka the Princess of Monaco ÔÇô and we’re expecting big things.’

Hill has been there and seen everything there has to be seen in swimming over the years but is visibly animated when talking about this crop of 2012.

‘Cameron {the country’s 100m breaststroke hope] is looking very, very sharp,’ he said when asked to comment on the form of the man who will dive into the pool in the heats and semi-finals this coming Saturday, before swimming the final on Sunday night.

He was also extremely pleased with the progress of the precocious 20-year-old, Chad le Clos.

‘If you ask me how good he is, and I know I’m biased, but I have to say he’s a rare talent. Having said that, he’s coming up against two of the greatest butterfliers the world has ever seen in Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte and we still have time on our side. Of course it will be tough for him, but he’s the real deal. Once a swimmer gets into the final anything can happen. And that’s the mindset we will be applying throughout the team. Get into the final first.’

Le Clos himself looked in fine shape as he gave TV interviews, as did Meaklim at the completion of the flag ceremony.

The swimmers have traditionally been a cornerstone of South Africa’s Olympic challenge and this year will be no different. In Beijing we had to wait until the second week for the country’s first medal ÔÇô Khotso Mokoena in the long jump. London 2012 has a different, positive energy, and those swimmers will be keen to get on the medals board.


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