Cameron van der Burgh sets mark

Updated: July 29, 2012, 4:53 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

LONDON -- Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa set a world record to win the 100-meter breaststroke on Sunday, denying Japan's Kosuke Kitajima an Olympic threepeat.

Van der Burgh clocked 58.46 seconds, 0.12 better than the mark set by Brenton Rickard of Australia at the 2009 world championships in Rome. Christian Sprenger of Australia took silver in 58.93, and Brendan Hansen of the United States claimed bronze in 59.49.

Kitajima was trying to become the first male swimmer to win the same race at three straight Olympics. But, like Michael Phelps the night before in the 400 individual medley, the Japanese star didn't come close.

Van der Burgh made sure of that, dominating the race almost as soon as his head popped out of the water for the first time. He was comfortably ahead at the turn and blew away the field on the return lap, knocking off another of the marks set at the 2009 world championships.

Rickard's time of 58.58 was among the astonishing 43 world records established at the 2009 world championships, when rubberized suits took the sport to times that bordered on absurd. The suits have since been banned, with some predicting that it might take decades to go faster in textile suits.

Only two records fell at last year's worlds in Shanghai, but the Olympic meet has already beaten that number.

Hansen's third-place finish provided a bit of salve for past Olympic disappointments. Hansen was so disgusted with his performance in Beijing that he retired from the sport, saying he was totally burned out. After giving triathlons a try, he returned to the pool and got back up to speed.

"That's as fast as I can go right now, and I'm really pleased with the outcome," Hansen said.

Kitajima didn't find the speed he needed, struggling home in fifth at 59.79. The night before, Phelps failed in his bid to win three straight 400 IM titles, fading to fourth while fellow American Ryan Lochte took gold with a dominating performance.

Van der Burgh propped himself on the lane rope, breathing heavy and holding his hands on his head. He thought of his good friend, Alex Dale Oen, who was the world champion in this event but died suddenly in April from cardiac arrest.

"I just have to pay tribute to Alex Oen," van der Burgh said. "I know that he's been with me this year and helped me to finish the race in such a strong manner. If there is such a thing as a perfect race for me, I definitely think that I submitted it tonight. I don't even care about the world record. Once you become an Olympic champion, you join the club."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.