By Gary Lemke in London
Chad le Clos will line up in the lane next to Olympic legend Michael Phelps in Friday night’s Olympic 100m butterfly final after another performance in the semi-finals that took the breath away at London 2012.
Le Clos, who┬áscratched from the 200m IM final to concentrate on the 100m butterfly, produced a national and African record in the morning’s heats (51.54sec) before having to come from well behind at the 50m turn to touch the wall first in the semi, again rewriting history with a 51.42.
On Friday night he is hoping to go even quicker than that, but politely concedes that he won’t be able to beat Phelps, who clocked ┬á50.86 in his semi-final a half hour after winning his 20th Olympic medal ÔÇô and 16th gold ÔÇô in the 200m IM.
“I was so nervous when I turned at 50,” the ridiculously talented 20-year-old South African said. “I was like, one second off the pace but luckily I had a good turn and another good finish. Now I have three more races ÔÇô all hundreds [with two relays] ÔÇô to swim here and then I’m finished. So, I can give it everything after getting some rest tonight and hopefully come back and lower my time again in the final.”
The manner in which Le Clos dug down, yet again, over the final 30m to come from nowhere to first, is another for the PVR highlights reel. One will never get tired of watching him in action. Given his form and his attitude, more people will be expecting him to medal tomorrow night and even push Phelps all the way to the wall.
“I want to congratulate Michael again on his achievement tonight. It was a fantastic swim and I’m sure he was a little tired in his [butterfly] semi so will go faster tomorrow. But, I will be lining up in the lane next to him…”
Earlier, Roland Schoeman reached another Olympic final when he qualified for Friday night’s men’s 50m freestyle sprint after two solid swims in the heats and semi-final at London 2012.
Competing in his fourth Olympics, an honour he shares with Ryk Neethling and Hendrick Ramaala, the veteran has given himself an opportunity to become the most decorated South African Olympian in history. He shares a tally of three with the retired Penny Heyns, but now that he’s in the final, anything can happen.
Predictions in the pool have often gone awry during these Games and Schoeman was a happy man after his 21.88sec effort in the semi-finals ÔÇô he posted 21.92 in the morning ÔÇô saw him qualify joint seventh overall, which means he will race in lane one.
“My main goal was to make the final here. I didn’t have the greatest of starts by any means. But now I hope to get some good rest tonight,” he said.
Schoeman swam in the faster of the two semi-finals, one which ended in a deadheat between the trail-blazing African American Cullen Jones and Cesar Cielo in 21.54.
Gideon Louw lowered his personal best to 21.92, but must have felt a little bittersweet as it left him on the outside looking in, in ninth spot overall. “I’ve got to be happy,” he said afterwards. “I didn’t expect to swim the 50 here until a few weeks ago and getting my fastest is a nice bonus. There’s a fantastic vibe in the camp and everything is really enjoyable.”
Suzaan van Biljon, who 24 hours earlier had broken the 13-year-old women’s 200m breaststroke record of Heyns, produced another good performance, although she was swallowed up in the last 100 in a race which saw the world record lowered to 2min 19.59sec by the American Rebecca Soni.
This was one-hundredths of a second quicker than the 2:20.00 she set in the semi-final and all three medallists dipped under 2:21.
Van Biljon went out fast and actually led after 50m in 32.22 and turned at halfway in second position in 1:08.51. As the pace quickened ahead of her through Soni, Van Biljon kept plugging on, but the effort began to tell and she was hanging on over the final 50.
Still, her 2:23.72 was only 0.08 seconds slower than Heyns’ record from 1999, although it was some 0.51 off her recod-breaking swim from the previous night. Still, she has to be happy with her return from London. In the 100 she recorded a personal best and in the 200 she set a South African and African record and reached the final. Those are good positives to take away for the 24-year-old.
Karin Prinsloo had reached the semi-finals of the women’s 200m backstroke, but was unable to replicate that morning performance with a 2:11.42 performance that left her at the bottom of the timesheets.