Disclaimer: HardCore Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the “best overall swim of the week.” HardCore Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many hard-core swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks some as others grabbed the headlines.
Heading into the final day of the Dubai World Cup, defending series points champion Chad le Clos trailed Hungarian rival Daniel Gyurta by just two points in the 2014 standings.
Normally, the points lead after just two stops of a seven-meet circuit wouldn’t mean much – it’s not who leads the whole way, it’s who hits the finish pad first, right? But this was a particularly important day, thanks the the World Cup’s cluster bonuses.
Special prize money rewards are given to the points winners of each of the circuit’s three clusters. Dubai was the final meet in the opening cluster, so with just one day of racing left, Le Clos and Gyurta were just 8 events away from settling who would earn the first cluster’s biggest bonus.
A bonus that comes out to 50,000 American dollars.
Gyurta struck first, winning the 100 breaststroke, his only entry of the day. But Le Clos fired back in the very next event in what turned out to be his signature swim of the meet.
Swimming the 100 fly, Le Clos triumphed over American Tom Shields, a dangerous short course swimmer who might be Le Clos’ biggest international threat not named “Phelps.” Even more than that, Le Clos came within a tenth of a second of breaking one of the tougher world records from the super-suit era.
Le Clos was 48.59, rattling the record of 48.48 set by Russian Evgeny Korotyshkin back in the fall of 2009, at the height of the buoyant, rubber-suit era and less than two months before the suits were officially banned.
With that win, the points started pouring in for Le Clos. 12 for the win, and eventually another 18 as the meet’s second-best overall performance in FINA points. Plus a momentum boost that helped him come from the second seed to win the 200 IM a few events later. When the dust settled, Le Clos was atop the series points by just 4. But narrow margins don’t matter when it comes to bonuses; the South African picked up a $50,000 check as the cluster champion. 4 points have never been so valuable.
What was also important about Le Clos’ fast swimming in Dubai (and in Doha a few days earlier) was that it showed Le Clos is still at the top of his game. Sitting out of the Pan Pacific Championships – and missing a butterfly showdown with now-unretired Michael Phelps – left Le Clos a bit of a mystery as nearly all the rest of the world’s swimming elite clashed head-to-head at Pan Pacs or Euros. But the World Cup made clear that Le Clos hasn’t developed any sort of rust.
No word yet on whether Le Clos will face Phelps at any future World Cup meets – the obscene prize money being raked in has to be a temptation for the American, though he’s never been particularly focused on short course swimming. But either way, the expected matchup between the two in Kazan at next summer’s World Championships just keeps heating up.
Full meet results here.
Current series point standings here.
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