Le Clos, Van der Burgh 2016's biggest waves-makers
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South Africa’s two swimming stars, Chad le Clos and Cameron van der Burgh, showed in 2016 they were mortals after all.
While the year may not have gone completely to plan the duo still carried the country’s swimming team at the Rio Olympic Games contributing three of the country’s 10 medals at the quadrennial showpiece.
Winning medals at two consecutive Olympics is no easy feat, and the fact they won silver instead of gold should in no way detract from their achievements at the quadrennial showpiece.
Expecting three medals and hoping for a title defence in his pet 200m butterfly event, Le Clos was gutted with his performances in Rio de Janeiro.
Fours years ago he stunned the world when he out-touched American swimming legend Michael Phelps by a hair’s breadth in the 200m event before finishing in second place in the 100m butterfly at the London Games.
Le Clos made a good start to the Rio showpiece by winning the 200m freestyle silver medal in a new continental record of 1:45.20, just 0.45s behind Chinese champion Sun Yang.
This boded well for Le Clos’ charge for the butterfly events but what followed was almost equal to the shock from four years before.
It was billed as the big rematch as the two heavyweights of butterfly swimming rekindled their rivalry at the Olympics.
Phelps got his revenge on the South African as he hit the wall ahead of Le Clos, who only followed in fourth place.
A gutted Le Clos uncharacteristically snubbed the media following the race, and only communicated his disappointment in a recorded message the following day.
“It was the worst performance of my career, there will never be a worse performance than that, no matter what happens,” Le Clos said.
“Like my dad said, we don’t cry for losing, we cry for winning, and as much as I want to cry, I said to myself worst things have happened to me this year
“This is not even the fifth worst thing that has happened to me over the last few months. I will take it on the chin. I will assess it, and move on.”
True to form, Le Clos bounced back in a bizarre 100m butterfly final where he shared the silver medal with Phelps, and Hungarian Laszlo Cseh with Singapore’s Joseph Schooling upstaging the three heavyweights winning in 50.39 seconds.
By winning four medals over two Games - three silver and a gold - Le Clos became the country’s most decorated Olympian.
Van der Burgh, in turn, relinquished his 100m breaststroke tittle to British phenom Adam Peaty, who smashed his own world record for the gold medal.
Peaty touched the wall first in an incredible time of 57.13 seconds with Van der Burgh following in second place clocking 58.68, just 0.22 off his personal best.
Cody Miller of the United States won bronze in 58.87.
Peaty proved his invincibility during the heats when he stopped the clock at 57.55.
Van der Burgh, nevertheless, became only the second male Olympic 100m breaststroke champion to earn a podium place at consecutive Games.
Former world-record holder Kosuke Kitajima of Japan won gold in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.
Brad Tandy was the only other swimmer to feature in a final in the pool while lone female swimmer Michelle Weber finished in a creditable 18th place at her maiden Olympics in the women’s 10km open water event in 1:59:05.
Tandy finished sixth in the men’s 50m freestyle final in 21.79 after clocking a new personal best of 21.80 in his heat.
Le Clos found consolation at the Fina World Short-Course Championships in Windsor, Canada, at the beginning of December where he claimed a rare back-to-back clean sweep of the butterfly events winning the 50m, 100m, and 200m titles while adding the 200m freestyle silver medal.
He opened his campaign winning the 200m butterfly in the third fastest time of all-time stopping the clock on one minute, 48.56 seconds (1:48.56), just 0.05 off his world record time.
The double world record-holder then smashed the global 100m butterfly mark he set two years ago by nearly becoming the first swimmer to dip below 48 seconds in the event chopping 0.36 off his previous best to post a 48.08.
On the final day of the championships he won the 50m butterfly clocking 21.98 to complete the sweep.
Two years ago Le Clos became the first swimmer to win the 50m, 100m, and 200m butterfly titles in Doha while also winning the 200m freestyle gold.
He almost added the 200m freestyle title but this time around he touched second behind Korea’s Taehwan Park.
Van der Burgh also overcame the disappointment of missing out on a podium place in the 100m breaststroke by finally adding the 50m gold medal to his long list of accolades.
Bagging the 50m breaststroke gold, Van der Burgh earned his first major title since the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.