DURBAN - It may be too early to tell, but Chad le Clos’ performances at last week’s South African Swimming Championships in Durban point to some sort of rebirth for one of the country’s greatest Olympians.
In the build-up to the Rio Games, one sensed that Le Clos, pictured, was in a difficult space which affected his performances at the global showpiece where he returned home with the 200m freestyle and 100m butterfly silver medals.
Le Clos was understandably under pressure from all fronts, having to deal with cancer in the family and the loss of his 200m butterfly title at the world championships the year before.
Le Clos seems reinvigorated thanks to a change in postal code, coach, and, seemingly, mindset.
On the eve of his 25th birthday on Wednesday, Le Clos won three gold medals in Durban - 200m butterfly, 100m butterfly and the 200m freestyle, and he now boasts the fastest times in the world in the 100m and 200m butterfly with season’s bests of 51.29 seconds and 1:55.00 respectively.
He has thrown down the gauntlet for the Fina World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“It is the best rankings by far. If you look at last year I was top seven or top eight, and even in the 100m free I have never been in the top 20 leading into the world championships,” Le Clos said.
“The 200m fly was a solid race and the 100m fly was the standout swim of the week, I couldn’t have asked for better.”
Le Clos split from his long-time coach Graham Hill towards the end of 2016, before joining up with Italian coach Andrea di Nino.
“Chad wants to win again, that was the first thing he told me when we spoke. When you do not agree with the goal of the swimmer you must tell him but in his case it makes sense,” Di Nino said.
“Now he is reaching an age which is quite tricky because he is not a young boy anymore and he is not yet an old swimmer, he is in the middle."
It was an otherwise good national swimming championships, with three new faces posting world qualifying times including Tatjana Schoenmaker who became the first female swimmer since 2013 to qualify for the global showpiece.
Olympic gold medallist Cameron van der Burgh continued his rein, winning both the 50m and 100m breaststroke titles.
His 50m breaststroke time of 27.06 seconds and season’s best 59.73secs in the 100m breaststroke, is ranked the second and third fastest in the world so far this year.
Zane Waddell, 19, emerged as an exciting prospect, claiming silver and posting a qualifying time in the 50m freestyle, while also winning the 100m freestyle title with a B-qualifying time of 49.09, the eighth best time by a South African.