Heroes' welcome for Olympic champs
10 August 2012
South Africa's Olympic gold medallists, Cameron van der Burgh and Chad Le Clos, arrived home to a warm welcome from a cheering crowd at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday morning.
The crowds braved the chilly weather to greet the Olympic swimming champions with blowing vuvuzelas, waving flags and placards that read: "We are proud of you Chad and Cameron ... Welcome back golden boys".
When their flight touched down at OR Tambo International Airport from London at 7am, Sport Minister Fikile Mbalula was among the first to welcome them.
Looking emotional and completely surprised by the huge crowd, Van der Burgh said: "We didn't really expect this. It was so amazing to walk out here and see this huge crowd. Chad and I could not believe that this is for us."
Van der Burgh received a gold medal in London after winning the 100m breaststroke in a world record time of 58.46 seconds.
Le Clos, who was in a jovial mood while displaying both his silver and gold medals, also used the opportunity to show the country his appreciation.
"I just want to say to all the women out there - Happy Women's Day! The support that we received from home while in London was so incredible; it meant so much to us, we really appreciate it."
Le Clos beat United States swimmer Michael Phelps to win the gold medal in the 200m butterfly before taking silver medal by tying for second position in the men's 100m butterfly.
Asked how he felt after beating the most decorated Olympian of all time, Le Clos said: "A lot of people know that Phelps is my hero, and when he won the gold medal in Athens [in 2004], I was 12 years old. I could not believe that I beat him, but I wanted [to] because gold is fantastic."
Le Clos said after getting out of the pool, Phelps gave him some words of encouragement. "He also wished me luck for the future," said Le Clos.
Mbalula praised South Africans for their support.
"South Africa is a winning nation. Today our people are gathered here and everywhere in the country with joy ... Sport unites our people; it is a time [to] come together to celebrate and remember that we are South Africans.
"You will go down in history as heroes of our people, you are real heroes," Mbalula told the two swimmers.
Mbalula encouraged South Africans to increase their support for sporting teams.
"We might not get the target of 12 medals set by Sascoc, but already there's gold ... thanks to Chad and Cameron. Long live to them and the rowing team."
The Olympians who are still competing in London will come back home next Tuesday. The Games wrap up on 12 August.