JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s Chad le Clos will be seeking to rewrite the history books when he takes part in the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April.
“It’s nice to get the chance to create a little bit of history along the way, so one day in 20, 30, 40 years’ time, when I have grandkids, I might be able to say, ‘Granddad holds the records for the most amount of medals won and did the treble in the fly’,” said Le Clos.
“I am seven medals (away) from the all-time record,” le Clos says, referring to the mark of 18 Commonwealth Games medals currently held by both English shooter Mick Gault and Gault’s Australian counterpart, Philip Adams. “If I can get seven medals I will become the most decorated of all time at the Commonwealth Games.
The four-time world champion has a soft spot for the butterfly. A little more than six years ago the event gave him the moment that, no matter what else he achieves, it may define his career. In London’s Aquatics Centre le Clos took on the greatest of all time, Michael Phelps, in his signature event, the 200m butterfly, and beat him to Olympic gold.
Fame, fortune and gold in the same event at both the 2013 FINA World Championships and 2014 Commonwealth Games followed, but in August 2016 it all came crashing down.
A stagnant le Clos never found fifth gear across the entire Olympic Games and even his favoured 200m butterfly failed to prise his very best form from him. A silver medal (in the 100m butterfly) shared with the retiring Phelps and the 2015 200m butterfly world champion Laszlo Cseh was not what he had been seeking.
The crushing disappointment brought about wholesale changes, first to le Clos’ coaching team, training regime and base and then to his diet and general approach. Redemption came more quickly than most imagined possible.
“2016 was a difficult year,” le Clos admits. “I won’t shy away from the mistakes I made but I said I would be back and that I wanted to win the 200m fly at the world championships.”
And win he did, beating the defending champion Cseh in front of his home crowd in Budapest.
“That was a huge moment in my life, not just in my career. I did it for myself, I did it because I wanted to win. I got obsessed with winning and redeeming myself.”
The 25-year-old has qualified for five individual events plus the relays at Gold Coast 2018 but if he had to pick one event to prioritise, it would be the 200m fly.
“Because of what happened (in Rio) the 200m has become very emotional, very close to my heart because the way I lost it and then won it (at the 2017 world championships) made it very special for me,” he says. “I feel like that is my event.”
Victory on April 7 would be his third successive 200m fly Commonwealth Games crown, not that le Clos is getting complacent. The South African has pinpointed England’s James Guy and 100m fly Olympic champion Joseph Schooling (SIN) as his main rivals, while he also has his eyes open for “a young 18-year-old who is coming through the ranks who I haven’t heard about, like I did in 2010”.
Unsurprisingly, the South African has vivid memories of the Delhi Games in 2010. It wasn’t the 18-year-old’s first senior championships – he had been to the 2009 world championships to gain some experience – but it was the first time he had put expectations on himself.
“It was a different kind of pressure,” he explains. “I went to the 2009 world champs knowing I was not going to make a final but the (2010) Commonwealth Games were extra special because I knew I had a chance.”
Gold in the 200m butterfly and 400m individual medley followed, triumphs he backed up with another double in Glasgow four years later – that time in the 200m butterfly and 100m butterfly.
“It’s all about learning to find comfort under pressure, that is the key to success, learning to deal with all the outside pressures and converting them into a winning formula,” he says. “I think I have got that art down to a tee.”
One thing is for certain: the man who was crowned FINA’s overall World Cup champion in 2017 – he is the first male swimmer to win the title on four occasions – will not back down in Gold Coast’s Aquatic Centre. It is simply not in his nature.
“It’s probably going be the most difficult Games because the Aussies are extremely hard to beat at home,” he says, before adding, “But I have never really raced in front of a home crowd before so, for me, I am always on enemy soil.
“We (South Africans) are not afraid of things, which I think makes us difficult to beat. A lot of South Africans have that type of character. We are brought up that way, to be strong and bold and go for what we want, that type of attitude where we don’t settle for anything less.”
African News Agency (ANA)