By Gary Lemke
He’s been described a future superstar of swimming and someone who is destined to be an Olympic gold medallist. However, all the talk was about Chad le Clos winning gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. This morning in London those experts were revising their opinions.
Le Clos upstaged American great Michael Phelps and his countryman, Ryan Lochte, in qualifying second fastest for the final of the men’s 400m Individual Medley later on Saturday.
In other action, Cameron van der Burgh reached tonight’s semi-finals of the men’s 100m breaststroke with a comfortable second place in 59.79sec, which placed him sixth on the list of 16 qualifiers. He actually blazed his way to the wall at 50m, turning in 27.29, which was some 0.38 ahead of world record pace. ‘I was trying to keep something back for the semis,’ he said afterwards.
The semi-finals later will be a tense affair; 12 swimmers went under one minute and are within 0.37 seconds of one another.
However, the news wasn’t as good for Riaan Schoeman, sixth in the same heat as Le Clos, Heerden Herman ÔÇô admittedly a better 1500m freestyler ÔÇô who was 24th overall out of 28 in the 400m freestyle and Kathryn Meaklim. She was visibly upset after the heats of the women’s 400m IM, having finished sixth with a 4min 43.46sec time, which left her 16th overall. Considering she has a PB some six second faster, this was a disappointing return for the capable KwaZulu-Natalian.
On the first morning of the swimming programme at London 2012, Le Clos beat Lochte in the final heat, coming from a body length back after 300m to power past the American on the final 100m freestyle leg, touching the wall in 4min 12.24sec, a full 1.62 seconds quicker than the personal best he closed at the Nationals in Durban earlier this year.
‘It’s an awesome feeling and an awesome experience. I feel good and hopefully I can still go faster in the final. This is the Olympics!’
Le Clos, who has a busy schedule ahead of him, gave South Africa plenty to cheer the night after London put on a dazzling show at the opening ceremony. While Lochte might argue that he was keeping enough in the tank for the final, the manner in which the Durbanite cruised past him will fill him with confidence.
It also gives him a good lane in the final and he’ll dive off in lane five, where he will be able to keep an eye on Pheps (lane eight) and Lochte (lane three).
One should also assume that the two Americans, who also have a tough week ahead of them, will improve significantly on their morning swims. The world record, set by Phelps in Beijing four years ago, is 4:03.84 and one must expect gold and silver to go under 4:10 in tonight’s final.
That means there is still much that Le Clos has to do if he has hopes of a medal, but what he has already done is make the world stand up and take notice.
He tracked Lochte, who looked to have an unassailable lead after the breaststroke leg, before showing he’s arrived in London in fine shape with the fastest finishing 50m of all ÔÇô his 29.17 being marginally quicker than the man who topped the timesheets, Kosuke Hagino, of Japan.
Phelps himself paid a price for taking it easy in the heats and very nearly missed out on the final. It might yet be the Phelps-Lochte show later on, but at least Le Clos has shown the world that he’s not in London on a sight-seeing visit.