CAPE TOWN - CHAD le Clos famously said “kill or be killed” ahead of his duel with Kristof Milak in the 200m butterfly final, and the South African star very nearly pulled off a giant-killing act at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Wednesday morning.
But in the end, Milak sped to victory in a new Olympic record of 1:51.25, and Le Clos was unable to keep up and finished fifth in 1:54.95.
The 29-year-old from Durban scraped into the semi-finals in the 16th and last place, and vowed to pull himself together to ensure his passage to the final.
And he did just that, swooping to victory in his semi-final in 1:55.06 and bringing the ‘tough talk’ to hype up the battle – and perhaps himself – for a fifth Olympic medal.
“Today, I made sure I was in the final, and we’ll see tomorrow, we’ll see what happens. Tough pace, tough competitors, of course. Milak the huge favourite, as everyone knows. But we’ll kill or be killed! That’s how I go! Simple,” he said.
And after being almost knocked out of the competition after concentrating too much on Milak in the heats, Le Clos made a much more assured start this time around, trailing the Hungarian by just 0.18 seconds following the first 50 metres of the final.
Milak’s time was fast – world-record pace of 24.48 to Le Clos’ 24.66 – and the South African then took the initiative by putting some pressure on his opponent with a quicker split of 28.66 to 29.00, which saw Le Clos take the lead and Milak drop down to third.
But the 21-year-old world record-holder opened up his shoulders a bit more during the third lap, regaining the lead with a split time of 28.67.
Le Clos was still in medal contention at that stage, with his 30.29 time for the third 50m placing him in the bronze-medal position.
But the rest of the field began creeping up on the South African, and he was unable to hold on for a podium finish, clocking 1:54.93 – his fastest time at this Olympics – to end fifth, with Milak taking gold in 1:51.25.
Tomoru Honda of Japan clawed his way up from fourth after 150m to second to claim the silver in 1:53.73, while Federico Burdisso grabbed the bronze medal in 1:54.45.
It was a valiant effort from Le Clos, though, and now he will set his sights on the 100m butterfly, where his first heat will take place on Thursday at 12.56pm SA time.
Men’s 200m butterfly final results
1 Kristof Milak (Hungary) 1:51.25
2 Tomoru Honda (Japan) 1:53.73
3 Federico Burdisso (Italy) 1:54.45
4 Tamas Kenderesi (Hungary) 1:54.52
5 Chad le Clos (RSA) 1:54.93
6 Leonardo de Deus (Brazil) 1:55.19
7 Gunnar Bentz (USA) 1:55.46
8 Krzysztof Chmielewski (Poland) 1:55.88