CAPE TOWN - CHAD le Clos has four Olympic medals to his name in an illustrious career, so why is he putting himself through all the hard training to go to the Tokyo Games?
Because he is most certainly still good enough to compete at the age of 29.
His greatest rival Michael Phelps eventually hung up his goggles at 31, having made a comeback after retiring at 27.
Le Clos is as enthusiastic as ever, as he was when he went headto-head with Phelps at the 2012 London Olympics.
Who can forget that day, July 31, when the South African beat his hero to the gold medal in the 200m butterfly final in a time of one minute 52.96 seconds?
That’s when we were all introduced to everybody’s favourite uncle, his dad Bert ‘Unbelievable’ le Clos, who watched his son clinch silver in the 100m butterfly as well.
Four years later, the Durbanite grabbed two silver medals at the Rio Games, in the 100m butterfly and surprisingly the 200m freestyle, to become the most decorated SA Olympian with four medals.
Now in 2021, the sprightly Le Clos is chasing down the new king of the 200m butterfly, Kristof Milak of Hungary. The 21-year-old is the world record-holder in the distance with a time of 1:50.73, breaking Phelps’ mark of 1:51.51 at the 2019 World Championships to claim the gold medal.
Milak leads the 2021 world list as well with a quick 1:51.10, and has two other times – 1:51.40 and 1:52.50 – that are faster than everybody else this year, as well as a few others further down the list.
Le Clos has been showing some good form in recent weeks, posting his first sub-52 second time in the 100m butterfly at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome in late June. And guess who won? Milak, of course, in a superb 50.89.
Le Clos told the SwimSwam website that when he was in Hungary recently, he was hoping to spend some time in the pool with Milak.
“I wanted to train with him, but he said no. I don’t think his English is very good, to be honest! But he was very nice … He seems like a good kid. I’m happy for him and his success.”
So, could the South African hit back at the Hungarian for the ‘snub’ in Tokyo? Well, based on statistics, it’s a tough ask. He has qualified for the 100m butterfly too, but his best bet to be a contender will be in the 200m.
Le Clos’ best 200m butterfly time this year is 1:55.63, which places him in 21st position on the world rankings.
Milak tops the list with that incredible 1:51.10, which is even faster than Le Clos’ personal best of 1:52.96 set in the 2012 Olympic final.
So it looks like Milak would have to be injured to miss out on the gold medal in Tokyo, but that doesn’t mean Le Clos is totally out of the running for a silver or bronze.
His season’s best of 1:55.63 is 1.35 seconds off the second-fastest man in 2021, Italian Federico Burdisso with 1:54.28, while Hungary’s Tamas Kenderesi is third with 1:54.37.
But one thing in his favour is his sheer experience and big-match temperament.
Le Clos loves a contest, and has seen it all at the past two Olympics. He has gone toe-to-toe with one of the greatest swimmers in Phelps, and won.
He is the ultimate competitor and is still chasing after medals.
Could he stare down Milak in Tokyo? Considering his never-say-die attitude, don’t ever count out Chad Guy Bertrand le Clos …