Elite Olympian Chad le Clos has ‘unfinished business’ heading into the Olympic Games

Elite Olympian Chad le Clos has ‘unfinished business’ heading into the Olympic Games
Chad le Clos of Team South Africa prepares during the Men's 200m Butterfly Final on day five of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. July 28 2021. (Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

At 32 years old, Chad le Clos is as hungry as ever to get back on the Olympic podium and extend his record as South Africa’s most decorated Olympian.

Chad le Clos is South Africa’s most decorated Olympian of all time with four medals across two Olympic Games. Eight years on from the last time he stepped on the podium spot at the Games, Le Clos is looking to add to his medal tally.

The then 20-year-old Le Clos had the world at his feet in 2012 when he beat Michael Phelps by five one-hundredths of a second to win the men’s 200m butterfly and claim his first-ever Olympic gold medal.

Three days later he had his second Olympic medal, this time a silver in the 100m butterfly.

Just more than a decade after that historic Olympic Games in London, the 32-year-old has not yet qualified for the 200m butterfly for the upcoming Games in Paris in July and August this year.

Le Clos had an opportunity to seal his spot at the swimming nationals last week in Gqeberha but on a day that had both the 100m freestyle and the 200m butterfly final happening on the same evening, Le Clos chose to swim the former.

He came second to Pieter Coetzé, although, expectedly neither swam Olympic qualifying times for the hotly contested discipline.

“I wasn’t too concerned about times, I knew none of us were going to qualify in 100m free[style],” Le Clos said to Daily Maverick.

“And the 200m butterfly, it’s a stretch on a good day for me, at the moment, I know where I’m at in my training.”

Instead, it was Matthew Sates who took gold in the 200m butterfly, practically unopposed without Le Clos in the pool.

In the 100m butterfly final, Sates and Le Clos shared gold in a time of  52.07 seconds — half a second short of Olympic qualifying time — although both athletes had already qualified previously.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pieter Coetzé edges out Chad le Clos in tightly contested day two of SA Champs

The last few years have been difficult for Le Clos who has been open about his mental health struggles which affected him in the pool in Tokyo where he failed to make it out of the pool in the 100m butterfly and finished fifth in the 200m butterfly.

Despite form and health troubles, Le Clos is confident of being back to his best when the Olympics roll around.

“Health has been a problem for me,” he said. “But I think at the end of the day if I can just perform, if I can be there in the best shape, I can’t complain with a PB (personal best).”

Le Clos’s personal best in the 100m butterfly — the only Olympic event he has qualified for — is 50.56 seconds, a rapid speed he swam as a 23-year-old at the World Championships in Russia back in 2015.

Chad le Clos

Chad le Clos of South Africa in action the Men’s 200m Butterfly during the 2022 Commonwealth Games at Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham, England. July 31 2022. (Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)

‘Unfinished business’

In spite of the setbacks he has faced recently, Le Clos is determined to get back to his best and back on the podium. His only concern is whether his body — which has been swimming professionally since 2010 — can keep up.

“I have a lot of unfinished business,” Le Clos said.

“I’m pissed with a lot of things, you know, I made a lot of bad decisions in the last couple of years and I’m motivated, man.”

“I’m hungry. I’m mentally stronger than I’ve ever been. And it’s just whether the body can keep up, you know.

“It’s a sad thing because I can see it now. I can see that I’m not able to recover anymore.

“When I’m training, I can still smash it up with these guys. But like the next day I’m proper broken.

“So I have to find that balance, and hopefully with a bit of luck, a bit of good fortune in the next 12-14 weeks we’ll be competitive.

“Win, lose or draw we will be competitive in Paris. I’m very confident about that.”

While Le Clos is positive that he will be at his best, he is aware that the pool of competition has expanded. Getting into the final, despite swimming well, is not a formality because of the number of quality swimmers around the world.

“We have a bit of work to do,” he said. “I’m quite a bit behind but I have a plan. I still believe a PB is in the works for the Olympics.”

Nonetheless, despite the ups and downs and being hesitant to speak about retirement at any point, Le Clos is proud of his lengthy and legendary career.

“If I retire tomorrow I’ve done everything I wanted in the sport,” he said. DM


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