As far as South Africa’s individual sporting achievements go, nobody had a better year than Chad Le Clos. Still only 22-years old, he breaks records like Greeks break plates at a wedding. ANTOINETTE MULLER caught up with the multi-gold medallist.
Chad le Clos is just 22 years old, but he has already achieved more than most people double or triple his age. The South African swimming prodigy, who won the hearts of the nation during his 2012 Olympic performances, has had yet another sublime year in the pool.
Le Clos won two gold medals at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year and also raked in the bronzes and silvers for individual and relay events, but it was during the Fina World Swimming Championship where he had his greatest success.
The youngster made history on the final night at the Hamad Aquatic Centre in the Qatar capital when he became the first swimmer to win the 50 metres, 100m and 200m butterfly events; he had also won the 200m freestyle earlier. The victories were the biggest ever medal haul by an individual South African at the global showpiece.
In a rugby, cricket and soccer mad country, South Africans who achieve in other sporting codes can sometimes fall by the wayside. But since his Olympic performances, Le Clos has become one of the most recognised faces in South African sport. For the swimmer, it’s something that he has seen change, but it’s something he hopes will grow even more.
“I think before the London Olympics we didn’t get enough recognition. I think it’s very difficult as a young swimmer to break through the ranks. The first time I really got recognition was after the 2012 Olympics. Before that I was world short-course champion, but nobody really knew me. But since London, a lot has changed,” he told the Daily Maverick.
“Just generally, though, I think our swimmers deserve a lot more credit. For example, from 2004 to about 2008, there were no platforms built or teams being built up. I think it’s getting better, but it’s not where it should be yet.”
Le Clos now regularly gets stopped in the street and asked for his autograph and when he returned from the Fina championship, a large group of fans were waiting for him at the airport, an experience he said “felt like the Olympics all over again”.
South Africa has a long history of impressive swimmers, but arguably nobody has been as impressive as the young Le Clos. He was destined for greatness since he was a kid, despite the fact that he was sometimes told that he wouldn’t crack it.
Le Clos only started swimming at the age of nine, giving up soccer for the water. But that sacrifice soon paid its dividends. In primary school, he was sponsored to swim at a championship meet in England. It was on that meet that he realised talent alone won’t propel him to great heights.
The hard work started paying off in his junior career and he was regularly ranked in the top 10 in the world. He broke through at the Olympics and has skyrocketed to fame since then. To date, 2014 was one of his most successful years and the medals and winning awards has underscored his talent. The seven medals he won in Glasgow equalled Ian Thorpe’s record of the 2002 Manchester Games. The haul took his total number of medals at the Commonwealth Games to 12, once again knocking Thorpe off his perch.
“The year has been about making history. Being the first one to equal Ian Thorpe’s record at the Commonwealth Games was really special. But my highlight was definitely what I achieved at the World Swimming Champs, it was really special,” Le Clos says.
Being a professional sportsperson is not something that comes easy. Along with all the travel and competing, there is plenty of training that needs to be done. Le Clos spends about 18 to 22 hours a week training in the pool, with about three hours of core work. With that also comes endless media engagements and, of course, the competitive races and competitions across the world.
While Le Clos is currently one of South Africa’s sporting elite, there was a time where he had plenty of detractors. It’s no surprise, then, that his advice to youngster is quite simple.
“Don’t give up on your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. The only person who can limit you is yourself. A lot of people told me I won’t be any good and told me i might as well stop now. If I listened to those people and not to myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he says.
Runner-up: Portia Modise
Photo: RSA’s Portia Modise (L) scores a goal from near the halfway line during a London 2012 Olympic Games Womens Soccer tournament match between between Sweden and South Africa at the City of Coventry Stadium in Coventry, Britain, 25 July 2012. EPA/ROBIN PARKER
Listing South African sporting achievements would not be complete without mentioning Portia Modise. This year, she became the first African to score 100 international goals. That’s male or female. Yes, you can return from looking up Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o’s goal tally on Wikipedia now. She is only the second person ever to achieve this feat. Yes, you can stop checking “top international goal-scorers” on Wikipedia now, too. The 31-year old has made 117 appearances for the South African women’s team. What makes her achievement even more remarkable is that she does not receive nearly the same level of coaching or salary as some of her male counterparts. Modise is a South African legend and her feat should not go unrecognised.
Main photo: South Africa’s Chad Le Clos competes in the men’s 200m butterfly event at the 12th FINA Short Course World Swimming Championships at Hamad Aquatic Centre in Doha, Qatar, 07 December 2014. EPA/ALI HAIDER
"Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me 'old' when I would never call him 'short and fat?' Oh well I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!" ~ Donald J Trump