This summer, swim enthusiasts around the world were eager spectators in the competitive back and forth between butterfly virtuosi Michael Phelps (USA) and Chad Le Clos (South Africa). Both men put up incredible 100m and 200m butterfly times across the World Championships in Kazan (Le Clos) and the U.S. National Championships (Phelps), but the in-water feud was also fueled by some out-of-pool talk on the part of Le Clos.
Now a month removed from the intense action, Le Clos spoke to Sport 24 about his post-Worlds goals and what it will take for the 23-year old to repeat his monster 2012 Olympics performance when, once again, set upon the world’s biggest competitive sporting stage in Rio next year.
“I want to be known as the best butterfly swimmer of all time and I know if I beat him (Phelps) next year, win the double gold and break his world records there is no question to ask”, said Le Clos prior to leaving for this week’s All African Games. “I started training hard already, there is no more distractions and I’m going back to my roots where I didn’t have a cellphone and there are some personal things I need to tweak.”
Keep in mind, however, that, come Rio, it may not just be Phelps that Le Clos has to conquer. As he discovered at world championships, Hungarian Laszlo Cseh is far from being out of the hunt for medals in 2016. As evidence, Cseh put up a gold medal-winning 200m butterfly time of 1:53.48 at world championships to steal the title away from Le Clos, who finished just two tenths behind in 1:53.68.
Of the second place finish, Le Clos now says, “I learned a lot of lessons from this, it would have been better for me (conceding the title)… it is a bit upsetting but in the bigger scheme of things it didn’t make any difference in my preparation (for Rio).” Trying to put things into perspective, he continued, “If not it made me hungrier to be stronger, I know I need to go two seconds faster than I did this year because it will take a world record to win it next year.”
Le Clos also candidly admitted that, “The most frustrating thing for me is I haven’t done a PB (personal best) since London, so at the World Cups I will have a full go and see what I can do.” In contrast, Phelps’ National Title-winning 200m butterfly time of 1:52.94 from San Antonio was the fastest the 30 year-old had registered since his world record-setting performance in 2009.
Phelps then followed that up with a head-turning 50.45 100m butterfly to claim his 2nd national title of 2015, clocking a time, which incredibly was faster than his 100m butterfly gold medal-winning performance at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Reflecting on the scrutiny and media spotlight on both athletes during those intense few days in August, Le Clos now says that his post-race comments, which included “Phelps can be quiet now”, were rooted in the South African’s so-called ‘doubters’. “It was more the fact that I did a time that Phelps hasn’t done in a long time, and it was more the fact that everybody was doubting me and that Michael swam such a fast time in the 200m fly. Of his own stellar 50.56 100m butterfly performance that won gold in Kazan, Le Clos expressed, “I wanted to show everybody that it was just a bad race, so I was just happy with the way I bounced back.”
According to Le Clos, headed into 2016, he and Phelps are the undisputed “favorites for next year” with “everybody speaking about how big it is going to be with what is going on between Michael and me.” If this summer was any indication of the ferocity with which the two will compete in Rio, Le Clos may indeed be proven right.