CAPE TOWN - CHAD le Clos says that “my mind and my soul deserved better” than the fifth-placed finish that he ended up with in the 200m butterfly final at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday.
The four-time medallist – which makes him South Africa’s most decorated Olympian – was hoping to add a fifth piece of silverware when he went head-to-head with Hungarian superstar Kristof Milak.
Le Clos had won the 200m gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, but surprisingly missed out on the podium at the 2016 Rio Games.
He was determined to set that straight in Japan, although it was a long shot, considering that he had not posted a world-class time before the event.
But Le Clos loves a fight, and after scraping through to the semi-finals as the 16th and last qualifier, he showed his determination by winning his semi-final in 1:55.06 after racing into a big lead from the start.
Milak, though, is on another level to the rest of the field, and is also the world record-holder.
But Le Clos’ competition was more for the silver and bronze medals, and he made an excellent start to the final, trailing Milak by less than two-tenths of a second after 50 metres.
He eventually took the lead from the 21-year-old at the 150m mark, but Milak stormed back to take the gold in 1:51.25 – a new Olympic record.
Le Clos was unable to hang on, and faded to fifth in 1:54.93, which was his best time at the Tokyo Olympics, with Japan’s Tomoru Honda second in 1:53.73 and Italy’s Federico Burdisso third with 1:54.45. Another Hungarian, Tamas Kenderesi, finished fourth in 1:54.52.
“It was going to be tough to beat him (Milak) anyway, so well deserved for him. The Japanese boy got second, 1:53 from lane eight, so he saved his best swim for the last one, so fair play,” the 29-year-old South African said.
“The Italian boy got third, 1:54, so (I was) half-a-second off the medals. I guess it’s not the (end of the world). I just think 1:54 is like… I worked hard this year, and I deserved to be better than that.
“I don’t think too much about (Milak’s pace) – I just want to race. It sucks, because my mind and my soul deserved better than what I put out there, you know – it really does. It’s a bit sad.”
Le Clos bemoaned his lack of speed in the final 50 metres. “I know I am mentally stronger than all these guys. Sometimes it doesn’t come together, you know – it is what it is. I felt great, looking at everyone and feeling excited, like I usually do,” he said.
“I wasn’t off. It’s just, the body didn’t work. The body didn’t come back (in the last 50 metres), unfortunately. It is what it is.”
Now he will turn to the 100m butterfly, where his first heat takes place on Thursday at 12.56pm SA time.