The South African was beaten by an ageless 38-year-old Nicholas Santos, who posted a new championship record of 21.81sec. The Brazilian world record holder got his nose in front from the start, leaving Le Clos to play catch-up.
“It was a great race and I am happy with my time,” Le Clos said. “Of course I’d have liked to have won, but fair play to Nick. That was a crazy time.
“I can’t complain, it is what it is. Nick is phenomenal. He is 38 and still winning world titles. I hope when I am 28 I am winning world titles.”
Compatriot Ryan Coetzee, who won the bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in April, finished eighth in 22.99.
Le Clos came to China hoping to win his third consecutive 50m, 100m, 200m butterfly golden treble but was edged out for silver in the 200m and 50m distances. But the South African has nothing to be ashamed of after beating Caeleb Dressel, one of the rising stars of international swimming, to claim an unprecedented fourth 100m butterfly gold medal.
Le Clos and Dressel are set for a mouth-watering rematch when they line up in the 100m freestyle final today.
The South African clocked the fastest time of the semi-finals, touching first in his race in 45.89. He is looking to emulate Athens 2004 Olympic gold medallist Ryk Neethling, the only South African to date to have won a 100m freestyle gold medal at the World Short-Course Championships - in Shanghai in 2006.
Meanwhile, Cameron van der Burgh will have his sights set on his first 50/100m breaststroke double at the Championships to end his career in style. Van der Burgh was the fastest qualifier in the 50m breaststroke semi-finals posting a time of 25.76. The 30-year-old announced his retirement from international swimming after earlier in the week racing to his second 100m breaststroke gold medal.@ockertde