By Gary Lemke in London
Commonwealth Games champion Chad le Clos has been looking forward to the Olympics for a long time and he’s going to make sure he enjoys every second of it. There were another 115 of them as he cruised into the semi-finals of his favourite event, the men’s 200m butterfly, in Monday morning’s heats at London 2012.
Le Clos easily qualified for the evening’s semi-finals where he will be hoping to go under 1min 55sec, which, dare we even begin to whisper it, could be medal territory. Especially with the great Michael Phelps looking a pale shadow of the swimmer who has dominated the last two Olympics.
We’ve already seen enough of Phelps, the American who has 17 Olympic medals to his credit, to know that he isn’t in the form of his life. Actually, having watched him in the men’s 400m IM (where he finished fourth in the final), the men’s 4x100m final and today’s 200m butterfly heats, there are many who reckon we are watching a legend struggling in the final races of his career.
There is a queue of pretenders wanting to be contenders. Le Clos is one of them. Still only 20, he finished fifth in the 400m IM final ÔÇô ‘I’ve got to be so happy with that because this time las year I was like 24th and now I’m fifth in the world, and with Ryan [Lochte] and Michael [Phelps] not around for the next Games that opens up things for me,’ he said ÔÇô and is now in the semis of the 200m butterfly.
On the morning’s evidence, he will qualify for the final tonight ÔÇô and qualify well.
He had plenty in reserve as he finished second behind Serbia’s Velimir Stjepanovic ÔÇô the two were far apart in lanes three and seven, respectively ÔÇô and touched the pad in 1min 55.23sec.
Only Austria’s Dinko Judic (1:54.79), America’s Tyler Clary (1:54.96) and Stjepanovic (1:54.99) went quicker. Yes, Phelps (third in his heat in 1:55.53) was slower than Le Clos. Perhaps the legend is playing mind games, but he hasn’t done that in the past. He was considered the obvious favourite for 200m butterfly gold and if he is indeed off form, that can only aid the young South African.
Le Clos’ immediate feat is, obviously, qualifying for the final later. He’s still not expected to win a medal, but once in the final, anything can happen.
Elsewhere in the pool, both Karin Prinsloo (women’s 200m freestyle) and Kathryn Meaklim (women’s 200m IM) were unable to progress to the semi-finals and Meaklim, in particular, will be hugely disappointed about her Olympic campaign.
She arrived here oozing positive energy and with high hopes, but in her two swims in the IM she has been a long way even off her personal best. For someone who has put so much into her sport and preparation, that will be hurting her.