Chad le Clos’s brilliant 200m butterfly victory captured the imagination of the country on Tuesday night, but the thrilling race was more than simply a dazzling victory for the kid from Durban.
The event was a perfect representation of the state of the sport at the moment, with Michael Phelps, the incumbent hero and arguably the greatest Olympian of all time, losing by the narrowest of margins to the young upstart.
Just as Phelps has dominated swimming since he first won a World Championship medal in 2003, so he controlled the early parts of the race, leading after 50m, and then increasing his advantage at the 100m mark, until he turned for the final length with what seemed an unassailable lead.
He looked to have wrapped up another gold and just had to hang on to keep his crown for another year.
But just as his career is now winding down, and he is finding it harder and harder to keep up his training schedule, so he found himself tightening up and slowing down.
And the youngster from SA was there, improving and getting faster and faster, to the point where Le Clos was able to swim the final 50m quicker than when Phelps set his world record. Le Clos snatched the 200m butterfly title away from his hero with his final lunge for the timing pad – but, more importantly, he announced that he would be the next superstar of the sport.
London 2012 may be too soon for him to be able to claim to be the next Phelps, but he certainly made a statement on Tuesday, and in Rio in 2016, and again four years after that, Le Clos will close in on Phelps’s record tally of Olympic medals.
And if ever there was a case of somebody deserving greatness, then Chad le Clos is the right person to be easing the crown from Phelps’s brow.
His work ethic, his humility and his shy confidence make him the perfect Olympian – and the perfect person to dominate swimming for the next 12 years.