JOHANNESBURG – Chad le Clos topped a spectacular year for South African swimming by earning the coveted Fina Male Swimmer 2018 award on Sunday.
The London 2012 Olympic champion was one of the top performers at last week’s World Short-Course Championships in Hangzhou, China where he won four individual medals including the 100m butterfly gold medal.
“I thank Fina for this opportunity - it’s the second time I win this prize - especially in a year where my participation at the Swimming World Cup was a bit shaky,” Le Clos said.
“I had to skip the third cluster, but four medals here mean a lot to me.”
The championships can be described as bitter-sweet for South African swimming after Cameron van der Burgh announced his retirement.
Van der Burgh drew the curtain on an illustrious career in style by claiming the 50-100m breaststroke sprint double.
Le Clos paid homage to Van der Burgh, who leaves behind an indelible legacy bowing out with a total of six world titles, an Olympic gold and silver.
“We had also in Hangzhou the end of a career for Cameron van der Burgh,” Le Clos said. “He is a great example for all of us, and that’s why I wanted to dedicate this award also to him.”
Le Clos was a consistent performer throughout the year winning the 50m, 100m, and 200m butterfly gold medals to become the most decorated Commonwealth swimmer at the Gold Coast in April. He has racked up a total of 17 medals over three Commonwealth Games.
At last week’s world championships he became the first male swimmer to win four 100m butterfly gold medals going unbeaten in four consecutive editions.
He won silver in the 50m and 200m butterfly and rounded off his campaign with the 100m freestyle bronze medal.
“The field here in Hangzhou was amazing, I was simply racing against the best in the world,” Le Clos said.
“I could say it was like ‘short course Olympics’. I had great races here, the 200 fly, where I improved the world record but finished second, and the 100m free today (Sunday), racing against (Caeleb) Dressel and (Vladimir) Morozov. It was really a great meet.”
While Van der Burgh’s retirement is a massive blow to South African swimming, Le Clos reassured he would not be hanging up his goggles anytime soon.
“Tokyo 2020 is, of course, my biggest focus and Hangzhou proved that from now on I can also sprint well,” Le Clos said.
“From my side, I want to continue swimming into my thirties, but I have a lot of other projects - I have the Chad Le Clos Foundation, which is working with children with more needs, and from less developed areas of our country. My beginning was also very humble and I never forget that.”@ockertde