While the CenturyLink Center pool in Omaha is being lit up during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, the rest of the world is taking notice, especially when 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps takes to the water.
Among those eyes on the action is 2012 Olympic gold medalist Chad Le Clos of South Africa, the man who dethroned the American 200m butterfly king in London. The two have had a history of competitive banter, capped off with Le Clos’ quote of “Phelps can keep quiet now” after winning the 100m butterfly event at last year’s World Championships. The South African followed that up with the bold statement, “I am not afraid of Michael Phelps.”
In Omaha, Phelps clinched his 5th Olympic Games appearance by way of winning the 200 fly in a time of 1:54.84. Of the achievement, Le Clos told supersport.com “It’s incredible to make five Olympic Games so I’m sure Michael’s very stoked about that. He’s obviously going to do a lot better at the Olympics and I think that he was just getting in and making the team. That was the most important thing.”
Continued Le Clos, “It’s going to be really cool to race him and Laszlo and all the really big names.”
Laszlo refers to Hungarian Laszlo Cseh, the reigning World Champion who also won the 200m butterfly event at this summer’s European Championships in a blistering new continental record of 1:52.91.
“Laszlo has had a phenomenal 18 months. He’s been swimming best times at the age that he is (30). It’s really impressive. And of course Michael – he’s the greatest. So we’ll see August the 9th who is the best.”
As for Le Clos, his career-fastest remains the 1:52.96 he threw down in London, which was surpassed by Phelps’ U.S. Nationals time of 1:52.94. Will either of those times be enough to wrangle the gold in Rio? “That’s a hard question to answer,” says 24-year-old Le Clos.
“I’ve never really raced for time so I won’t be going into the race with a time in mind. But I’d imagine 1:52-low or 1:51-high, maybe close to the world record. It all depends on how fast they swim.”
From a mental perspective, Le Clos doesn’t feel any extra trepidation at the thought of the stacked field. “There’s no pressure at all”, he says. “The faster they swim, the better it is for me because that means I’ll swim a good race. I’ve never felt pressure from anybody. I’ve never been afraid to race anybody. I’ve always thrived on that competition.”
Comparing his mentality and maturity between 2012 and today, Le Clos reflects, “Four years ago I was very young and just very excited to go to the Olympics. I had no pressure and no expectations. I’m definitely a lot hungrier for success this time around. I’m really, really looking forward to it and really motivated. More motivated than I’ve ever been. So I think that’s a good thing.”