At the Olympic Aquatics Centre, London
If there had been a cloud of doubt over Team South African before they left for London, then Chad le Clos found the silver lining in it when he ended a wonderful first seven days of the Olympic Games.
Le Clos, the nation’s golden child, took silver in the 100m butterfly last night behind Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian of them all.
The two spoke as they walked from the pool: “I promised himself that I would tell him he was my hero after the race,” said Le Clos. “He told me, hopefully he can watch me do great things in the future.”
He has watched him do great things here.
It has been a great Olympics for South Africa thus far, said Le Clos: “It’s been fantastic. Cameron van der Burgh did fantastic on day one and day two; I’m very proud of myself and the rowing team did great.”
It was his second medal of the Games taking South Africa’s total to four for the week. Three gold and one silver. Three of those medals have been won in the closest of finishes, with only Van der Burgh ripping home to take his gold in the 100m breaststroke by some distance.
The rowing team admitted yesterday that they had watched Le Clos’ win over Phelps in the 100m butterfly, in which he touched the wall first by just five hundredths of a second and taken heart from that. They won by a narrow margin themselves, but now they will sit back with a beer and watch their teammates.
Today Oscar Pistorius will be the story of the London Games as he lines up for the heats of the 400 metres this morning. It’s been a long journey for him to get here, to be the first double amputee to take part in the Olympics. He was nervous, he admitted, but had felt an overwhelming amount of support from around the world. Gary Player, tweeted: “Our thoughts are with you @OscarPistorius and we are all pulling for you our ‘Blade Runner’. Sterkte”.
The South Africans have caught the eye in London with Van der Burgh, the lightweight four rowing team and Le Clos, who has been a revelation. Richard Branson, the billionaire, thinks that Le Clos is the story of the 2012 Olympics. That may be because his company, the Virgin Active gyms, sponsor the lad, but there is the little matter of his toppling of Michael Phelps.
It ended a quite magnificent week for the South Africans in the pool, seven days in which they broke world and Olympic records, toppled the greatest Olympian of them all and saw a younger generation introduced. His best friend, Leith Shankland, was his roommate and swam in the last leg of the 4x100m medley relay today. He was overcome.
“It’s been amazing,” said Shankland. “When Cameron won his gold we all went bananas.
“We were in the crowd and all the emotion set in. And then two nights later when Chad beat Phelps…I don’t know if anyone saw me on the TV, but I was sobbing my eyes out. Princess Charlene had to grab hold of me and when I saw Chad’s mum I just burst into tears.”
He was not alone. Le Clos cried. His family cried. Graham Hill his coach cried. The swimmer and rowers handed the Olympic baton over to the rest of Team South Africa last night. Over to you Oscar, Caster and Co.