London – After winning two medals at the London 2012, Olympic gold medallist Chad le Clos hopes to be able to challenge for six more medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Le Clos’s gold and silver medals in the 200 and 100 metres butterfly, respectively, together with Cameron van der Burgh's gold in the 100m breaststroke, signalled South Africa's most successful Games in the pool since the country's readmission to the Olympics in 1992.
“I am looking to 2016 with multiple events on my back building up to that,” Le Clos said.
“I want to get my breaststroke back to where it used to be and look to some of the relays and be competitive in them.
“I think we have a strong group of individuals in the relays and we’ve proven, through the years, that we can do it.
“We can look at a possible seven, maybe eight, races in the future.
“Not too much pressure – just saying,” he commented.
“I’ve been struggling to sleep since the 31st (July) and it has still been surreal to me.
“I’ve lived my dream of competing against Michael Phelps, who’s been a hero to me growing up.”
The 20-year-old said he was struggling to come to grips with what he had achieved at the Games, beating his childhood hero.
“The first race that I swam – the 200m fly – was the race that he (Phelps) hadn’t lost for nine, 10 years and for me to go out and win that race was a bit of a shock to me,” he said.
“We always believed, coach Graham (Hill) and I, that we could do it but I never actually thought it would happen.”
Le Clos said he hoped he would inspire a generation as Phelps had inspired him.
“Phelps’ goal and dream was to change people’s perception of swimming and I think he has done that to a great extent,” he said.
“I can take this and try and inspire the younger generation. Phelps did that for me, so hopefully I can be a role model to younger South Africans, not just swimmers but other athletes.
“Hopefully I can be a role model like that.”
Le Clos said it was now up to him and Van der Burgh to lift the profile of swimming in the country.
“Swimming is not a mainstream sport in South Africa but, from what Cameron and I have done, we can change that slowly,” Le Clos said.
“It is awesome to have that feeling know that other people look up to you, so if we can generate more people like that, there are a lot more kids that can get involved in swimming.”
While he had to beat his childhood idol to clinch his gold medal, Le Clos said he was still rooting for the 17-time Olympic gold medallist in the build-up to the race.
“Every time he races I shout for him. In the semi-finals, usually you are hoping that the top guy doesn’t make it, but I was shouting for him 'go Phelps.'
“He won it and then I am like damn, I have to race him, what am I doing?”
Le Clos’ long-time coach Hill said the goal posts have changed now that his protégé has the two butterfly medals in the bag.
They will also be targeting the medley events over the next year to realise Le Clos’ dream of following in Phelps’ footsteps.
“It’s going to be a little bit different and Chad and I have chatted about it,” Hill said.
“For the next four years, we will have a target on our backs as Olympic champions, so it will be a different.
“Chad is not shy of work so that is a good thing. We will look at the medleys for sure next time.” – Sapa