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Fourth-Place Medal

Gold-medal swimmer admits to cheating in 100 breaststroke

Chris Chase
Fourth-Place Medal

South African gold medalist Cameron van der Burgh admitted to taking extra underwater kicks during his world-record performance in the 100-meter breaststroke at the Olympics, an illegal move that would have earned him a disqualification if judges had caught him.

Swimmers are allowed one underwater dolphin kick during their underwater breaststroke pullouts. Replays show van der Burgh took three on the start.

[ Photos: South African swimmer Cameron van der Burgh ]

He told the Sydney Morning Herald that he took extra kicks, but defends himself by insisting he's not the only one.

''If you're not doing it, you're falling behind," he said. "It's not obviously - shall we say - the moral thing to do, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it."

Allowing dolphin kicks during breaststroke is relatively new. The rules were changed, in part, because of four-time gold medalist Kosuke Kitajima, a Japanese breaststroke star who routinely added rogue kicks underwater. When swimmers push off a wall and tighten into a streamline, their legs can arch slightly and resemble a kick. Kitajima and others tried to make this natural movement into an advantage by adding some force behind it. It was illegal and the move angered rivals, like American Brendan Hansen. But the kick was tough to enforce, so FINA changed the rule to allow it.

But the old "give 'em an inch" rule came into play and now breaststrokers are trying to sneak in as many kicks as possible, hoping to do it without drawing the attention of officials.

[ Video: Did British cyclists cheat to win gold? ]

''It's got to the sort of point where if you're not doing it you're falling behind or you're giving yourself a disadvantage so everyone's pushing the rules and pushing the boundaries, so if you're not doing it, you're not trying hard enough," the South African said.

Van der Burgh can get away with the kicks because there is no underwater video review of swimming races. After testing the technology at a meet in 2010 to great success, FINA, the international swimming body, has yet to incorporate it in international meets.

After these comments and the potential uproar they'll create, expect that to change by next year's world championships.

In theory, van der Burgh shouldn't be in danger of losing his gold medal. Swimming doesn't have replay review and the time for appeal has long passed. But the IOC has shown a willingness to impart its own interpretation of fair play so far in London, banning badminton players for tanking matches and attempting to expel a runner who jogged during a race in order to rest for another. Nothing is off the table.

That knee-jerk reaction should be resisted. Throwing in an extra butterfly kick doesn't put van der Burgh on a level with blood dopers and steroid users. It's the equivalent of taking some extra steps in basketball or flopping in soccer: athletes trying to get away with as much as possible under the rules.

[ Photos: Notable Olympic drug offenders ]

His biggest crime was admitting the kicks. Who admits to cheating? What's the benefit? Deny, deny, deny, brother! It's easy:

Reporter: "We saw you took three kicks on your pullout. Did you?"

Van der burgh: "No, I only took one."

If you're morally loose enough to try to justify cheating by giving the "everybody else is doing it defense," lying to some journalist isn't going to be too difficult.

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