Glasgow _ They have divided the mixed zone at the Tollcross into zones for the athletes of each country. Each swimmer, as they come through after their race, has to run the gauntlet of journalists waiting for a quote on victory, failure, mediocrity, doubt, belief, bravado or bull.
The South African area is usually populated by the two South African print journalists here, as well as a man from the Sascoc website and perhaps someone from the Games official news service. On Monday night, a young woman was standing beside the South African flag. She looked a little nervous and far too happy to be working so late on a Monday night.
“Are you waiting for Chad?” she asked.
We were. She was from the Scottish Daily Mail, but was English. Then he came, eventually, after having had to say hello to his dad, do TV interviews and then pose for some pictures with the volunteers. We chatted about the race, how he is felt, how it is impossible to shake the feeling that he is in a different class to anyone else around him.
We asked him if he was having fun, and why, according to the eagle-eyed Rebecca Adlington, the former English swimmer, he hadn’t shaved totally for the Commonwealth Games. He agreed that he was having fun and pulled up his shirt.
“I only shave for the Olympics. I didn’t shave my chest, my underarms …” and pulled his shirt up to show just how he hadn’t shaved.
“I’m not complaining at all,” said the person from the Daily Mail. “Why am I the only girl here?”
We finished the questions and got ready to move. A few of the South African team officials congratulated Le Clos. The Daily Mail reporter put up her hand. “Can I ask some questions?”
“Sure,” said Le Clos.
“I’m with the Scottish Daily Mail,” she asked, “and was wondering what you think of Scotland?”
“Love it, It’s really great, hey. The crowd has been phenomenal.”
“Have you tried any Scottish food, like haggis or Irn-Bru?” she asked.
“I haven’t yet, but I’ve heard that the thing we get on the podium? Do you know what that is?”
“The ashtray thing?” she said.
“It’s the ashtray of trust. I mean, the bowl of trust. Apparently you have to drink out of it and pass it among to your friends. I won’t be doing any of that … (laughs).”
“Have you tried Irn-Bru? It gives you energy,” she lied.
“Oh ja. I’ve seen it in the village. I’ve tried that.”
And then he was off. Then he stopped to say one last thing. “Congratulations to Cam (van der Burgh) for winning and getting gold for South Africa. That was awesome to see.”
Le Clos is the swimmer of these Commonwealth Games. He seems to be able to turn it on at will. He can take the time to look around him when he is swimming to see where the others are, and – even though he admits he has not had the best preparation for Glasgow – still swims the best time in the world for the 100m butterfly this year.
As we queued to get through the security point outside Tollcross on Monday night, a Scot saw the media man from TeamSA with his official jacket on. He asked him if he was from South Africa. What had given it away?
“Are you here to see your man Le Clos lose tonight? He’s up against our young boy (a name we forgot as soon as he said it). He’s an up-and-coming talent. He’ll beat your guy.”
He must have been there on the wrong night. There was no Scot in the 100m butterfly. Le Clos might have beaten him anyway. Unshaved, unfussed, drinking an Irn-Bru out of the ashtray of trust as he did.