Rio de Janeiro - Chad le Clos shocked the swimming buffs by winning the 200m freestyle silver medal to become the fourth South African to win three medals at the Olympic Games.
Adding the freestyle medal to the gold and silver he won in London 2012, Le Clos joined South Africa’s most decorated Olympians which included Penny Heyns, Roland Schoeman, and Charles Winslow.
“A medal to me is like a gold medal in the 200m free, I always race to win, silver is great but if we do the race I would have loved to have won it but next year we will win it,” Le Clos said.
“It is a huge honour, it is a gold and two silvers now, tomorrow hopefully if we can get another gold that would be history. The best Olympian the continent has ever had so there is a lot riding tomorrow night and I will not take anyone for granted.”
Like in London four years ago Cameron van der Burgh opened South Africa’s medal account when he claimed the 100m breaststroke silver medal the day before with Le Clos following in his footsteps.
Le Clos used the exact same tactics in the 200m freestyle semi-finals from Sunday where he covered the first lap under world-record pace.
But instead of slowing down and finishing lower down the field, Le Clos kept his foot on the pedal touching second in the final behind China’s Sun Yang for the country’s second silver in two days.
He touched the wall in a new continental record of 1:45.20 slashing 0.55s off Jean Basson’s seven-year old record. He out-touched Connor Dwyer by 0.03s to relegate the American swimmer to third place.
“It was a crazy race, the tactic was definitely to go out hard, it is the first time I have gone out that hard in any race usually I come from behind,” Le Clos said.
“But I felt that having the outside lane gave me the advantage, I just wanted to put it all on the line and have no regrets.”
In the process Le Clos became the first African swimmer to win a medal in this event less than an hour before he had to swim in the 200m butterfly semi-final against archival American icon Michael Phelps.
Sun clocked a winning time of 1:44.65 to become the first male swimmer to have won an Olympic gold medal in three of the five current individual men's freestyle events adding to the 400m and 1500m from London 2012.
Meanwhile, verbal sparring made way for the real deal as the two heavyweights of swimming clashed in the 200m butterfly semi-final setting up a mouthwatering clash in the final.
A clip from the call room ahead of the race emerged where Le Clos shadow boxed not far from Phelps looking unimpressed by the South African’s antics.
In his response to the question of the shadow boxing, Le Clos said: “I don't know, I just do what I need to do. The call room is what it is. It is a difficult place with a lot of tension especially before a final.”
The whispers among the pundits around the pool was that Le Clos made a mistake adding the 200m freestyle to his repertoire especially with close to an hour before his specialist 200m butterfly semi-final.
Le Clos used a similar tactic in Monday’s semi-final where he also went under world-record pace over the first 50 metres but only managed to finish in fifth place.
The swimmer played down his chances and claimed he was still getting to grips with the 200m freestyle.
Some speculated he had employed a double bluff while other believed he was genuinely out of his depth.
Going into he Games those in the know were secretly placing bets on Le Clos not only winning a medal but even going for a gold medal.
The evening’s semi-final was the first time since the 100m butterfly final in London 2012 where Phelps edged Le Clos for the title two days after conceding his prized 200m butterfly crown to the South African.
Le Clos only had a 39 minute turnaround between his silver-medal swim, and the 200m butterfly semi-final with two physiotherapists working on him to get him ready.
He was understandably sluggish in his semi-final with Hungary’s Tamas Kenderesi touching first in a time of 1:53.96, and Phelps second 1:54.12.
Constantly looking around Le Clos did well to hold on finishing third in his heat, and with the fourth fastest time of the semi-finals clocking 1:55.19.
“I always race hard and I always try my best, no matter what the event is, I will chase you down the last few metres,” Le Clos said ahead of the big clash.
“I have a saying where ‘you have to fear someone that never gives up’ and I’ll keep coming back at you.
“I am sure for everyone else they will be thinking about that over the last 50 metres.”