It was well after midnight when South Africa’s Chad le Clos faced the media after his silver medal in the men’s 200m freestyle had doubled the country’s tally at these Games and taken his personal Olympic total to three – and counting.
‘It was a crazy race,’ Le Clos said of his 1min 45.20sec heroics that saw him touch for silver behind the 400m and 1500m champion from London four years ago, the formidable Yang Sun. ‘It was the first time I have ever actually gone out that hard in any race, usually I come from behind,’ the South African said. He had reached the wall at 50m under world record pace in 23.39, which was faster than the 23.91 he had taken in the semi-finals.
‘For me I just wanted to put it all on the line and have no regrets, turn at the 150m and have a big last underwater and hopefully hang on.’ The plan almost worked to perfection.
There was less than an hour between his 200m freestyle and the semi-finals of the 200m butterfly in which he had won gold in 2012 and he’d needed the assistance of two physios to get him ready for the butterfly event.
How did he feel about the tight turnaround? ‘It was not too bad. Straight after the race I was feeling a bit woozy, had too much coffee but it was fine. I was very comfortable with the semifinals. I had the advantage of looking at the first heat. It was a difficult day but happy I came through.’
And, the million dollar question … is the 200m butterfly final a match between him and Michael Phelps?
‘It is me and seven other guys. No one expected me to win four years ago, so I would be an idiot to stand here and say it is just me and Michael. I have nothing but respect for these competitors. This is a tough stage to be on.’
What about the ‘shadow boxing’ showdown that went viral after footage showed him taunting Phelps ahead of the stem-final?
‘For my side there is no real tension. I have no emotion when I am racing. Of course there is a huge rivalry between Michael and myself. As I have said before I have huge respect for him.
‘In the last year there was definitely spoken words over his nationals and I had world championships, I think a lot of it was misquoted. But at the end of the day I am a racer and I want to beat him and he wants to beat me.’
Le Clos also spoke about his parents, who are battling cancer. ‘It has been very difficult to say the least, the last few months, but when you are swimming for something greater than yourself it can help you achieve great things. I swim for not only my country, my coach and my teammates but I swim for my family as well. That last 50m I think about them.’
Going forward, why should his rivals look out for him? ‘I have a saying, “You have to fear someone who never gives up”. I will keep coming back at you. So I am sure everyone else will be thinking about that the last 50m.’
Chad le Clos image by Wessel Oosthuizen/SASPA