So Clos, but Chad takes it

By Kevin McCallum and Yusuf Moolla Time of article published Aug 1, 2012

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A superstar is born. Chad le Clos held his face in his hands, his body sagged over the lane ropes, almost in disbelief after he had won gold in the 200m butterfly.

Durban’s Le Clos, 20, watched in the stands by his teary parents, Bert and Geraldine, had beaten Michael Phelps, perhaps the greatest Olympic swimmer. He had become an Olympic champion. Nothing would ever be the same again.

It was the shock of the Olympic pool last night, a final 50m in which Le Clos was all fury and fire, coming back from third place after 150m to touch the wall just five hundredths of a second before Phelps, who was second.

Phelps, who was bidding to became the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three Olympics, led all the way but messed up his touch, allowing Le Clos to get his hands on the wall first, Reuters reported.

Le Clos’s time was one minute 52.96 seconds, a new SA and African record, but time meant nothing last night. This was the win of a South African great in the making.

Le Clos’s brother Justin and his sister, Bianca Matos, along with extended family and friends, more than 100 people in all, clad in supporter T-shirts, converged at the Stella Sports Club in Durban to watch the race and were in tears from the moment Le Clos appeared on screen. The tears continued to flow after the race ended.

It was South Africa’s second medal of the London Olympics, a 200 percent improvement on Beijing, from where Khotso Mokoena returned with just the one from his efforts in the long jump.

Le Clos, who attended Westville Boys’ High, earned R400 000 as part of Sascoc’s incentive scheme for gold medals won. The money mattered little next to an Olympic gold.

Two years ago Swimming World TV, an American-based show, described Le Clos as a “young Michael Phelps”. He would make a “massive international breakthrough”.

Six months later and Le Clos, 18 and a matric pupil, won the 200m butterfly at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The first steps had been taken. Le Clos brought home four medals from Delhi – two golds, a silver and a bronze. Since then he has added to his collection of medals and admirers.

Last year he took the overall victory in the world cup series and it was there that he and Phelps, who had won an incredible 14 Olympic gold medals, developed a relationship, and they have kept in touch. They had first met when Phelps was the ambassador at the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010, when Le Clos won five golds. Le Clos said Phelps had been generous with his advice, passing on tips and suggestions, and congratulated him on his win in the world cup series.

“I was shocked that someone like him was coming up to congratulate me,” said Le Clos in an interview with AP earlier in June.

Le Clos is coached in Durban by Graham Hill, who is with the SA team in London as the head coach.

“Without being too biased, he’s really good,” Hill said last week.

“In all the years I’ve been around, he’s got all the tools – the speed, the endurance, all the skills at starts and turns. He’s still young and it’s his first Games, so we’ll see.”

Where he went from the Olympic pool was into the arms and hearts of millions of South Africans.

His potential has been proved, his heart for the fight not questioned. A star was born last night, one that may burn brightest in Rio four years from now.

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