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Durban - Chad le Clos, the most-googled man in the country, and Durban’s Olympic gold and silver medal champion, was given a standing ovation and patriotic welcome from the people of the city when he arrived at King Shaka International Airport on Thursday.
More than 1 000 people, wearing “Team Le Clos” T-shirts, flying the SA flag and carrying placards with messages of support, went crazy when Le Clos appeared off his connecting flight from Joburg.
Although the crowd was dominated by pupils from his alma mater – Westville Boys’ High – who were dressed in full school uniform and carried their school’s flag, Durban’s young girls did not want to miss out. With his name emblazoned on their faces, they screamed for Chad, who duly emerged, rock-star-like, flanked by police, and smiling and waving to his fans.
Le Clos invited two Westville youngsters to join him in a rendition of the school’s traditional “war cry”, which worked the crowd into a veritable frenzy.
City manager Sbu Sithole, mayor James Nxumalo, Sport MEC Ntombikayise Sibhidla-Saphetha, Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo and council Speaker Logie Naidoo were among the VIP guests who welcomed the swimmer.
Addressing the crowd, Le Clos began his speech by wishing women a happy Women’s Day and thanking his coach, Graham Hill, whom he described as the “architect” of his success.
“Wow! I don’t know where to start,” he said.
“The journey did not happen overnight. Graham has been behind me for the past 12 years and this would not be possible without him,” said the Olympian.
Le Clos defeated his hero and the man with the most Olympic medals of all time, Michael Phelps, in the 200m butterfly, winning the gold medal.
A few days later, he was narrowly defeated by Phelps in the 100m butterfly, in which he won silver.
“People say I made history by beating my hero Phelps, but you (Durban) have made history for me by being here,” he said.
“Your support has made me proud to be a South African.”
Le Clos then surprised the crowd by reaching into his bag and pulling out his gold medal, saying: “This is for you, Durban.” The crowd chanted “Chad, Chad, Chad.”
Nxumalo congratulated Le Clos, saying he had made his country and city proud.
Sibhidla thanked Hill for assisting Le Clos and his family for “donating Chad to the nation and city”.
Even the ANC showed support as its members arrived in numbers, singing uyeza uChad (Chad is coming).
He wowed fans by signing autographs and posing for pictures with them.
Even the police, who were meant to be watching the crowd, were posing for pictures and describing him as “someone who really loves his country”.
After three months away, the Le Clos family arrived an hour later and his overnight celebrity dad, Bert, stole the show, shouting “Kushisa amazambane (it is hot potatoes). I told you.”
Hill said although he had been away from home for three months, it was a dream come true for any coach to mentor an Olympic champion. - The Mercury