Le Clos may scoff at the idea of returning home with bronze medals, but the South African hero can bow out with his head held high.
The country had won three medals at the championships with one day left after Tatjana Schoenmaker became the first South African woman to win a medal at the world long course championships when she bagged the 200m breaststroke silver on Friday.
Le Clos wanted to change the face of butterfly swimming since he dethroned American icon Michael Phelps in the 200 ’fly at the London 2012 Olympics.
But he has never quite found that extra gear, although he has always managed to find a way onto the podium despite a chronic groin injury holding him back.
Weeks before this year’s championships, Le Clos had found the root of the problem. He has been diagnosed with a groin hernia which may require surgery.
Le Clos produced a final brave swim against one of the poster boys of swimming by winning bronze in the 100m butterfly behind American Caeleb Dressel, who shattered the world record the night before.
Dressel smashed into the wall with a winning time of 49.66 seconds, 0.16sec slower than his world record mark from the semi-finals.
Le Clos touched in third place in 51.16sec with Russia’s Andrei Minakov finishing ahead of him in 50.83.
“I am very happy with my medals ... considering the circumstances, it’s been a great week,” Le Clos said.
“A few weeks ago I didn’t know if I would be swimming or not, so to come here and get the two bronzes is great.
“It is not what I wanted tonight in my crazy mind I thought I could win, but we will see what happens.”
The four-time Olympic medallist took some comfort from the race after beating new world 200m butterfly record holder Kristof Milak to the wall.
Hungarian Milak took Le Clos' global crown earlier in the week after breaking Phelps’s world record in the 200m event.
“It was important to beat Milak tonight, we will see next year, he had a phenomenal meet, he produced probably the best swim of the meet (in the 200 ’fly) which says something with the number of world records that were broken,” Le Clos said.
“I have a good 11 months to train, and I will take a good few weeks off where I will go home, recoup and go back into camp at the end of August.
“I am looking forward to going home, seeing my family, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them and get ready for Tokyo (2020 Olympics).”
South Africa will have another chance at an individual medal when Zane Waddell goes into the men’s 50m backstroke final.
The US-based swimmer was the fifth-fastest qualifier in the evening’s semi-finals, clocking 24.72sec.
“It was okay, I was quicker two weeks ago at the World Student Games, so I am stoked to make the final,” Waddell said.
“It is anyone’s race tomorrow I am really excited and super happy with my race.”@ockertde