LONDON – Sobbing on the top of the podium, South Africa’s Chad Le Clos looked like he could hardly believe that he had not only won a gold medal but beaten his hero Michael Phelps to do so.Le Clos stole the 200 metres butterfly title from Phelps in the dying seconds, just getting to the wall 0.05 seconds before the American on Tuesday and the outcome was ironic, given Phelps’ famous ability to execute masterful finishes.
“I felt like him, swimming that last 50 I felt like I was Phelps,” said Le Clos. “I always wanted to swim in an Olympic Games and I wanted to be like him.
“I always remembered Phelps coming off the last wall strongly, using that momentum, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Phelps, who sealed his legacy on Tuesday with a record 19th Olympic medal, praised Le Clos’ performance, describing him as “a very, very good competitor, a very hard working kid, a very hungry kid”.
Le Clos’ surprise win came hot on the heels of a gold for his compatriot Cameron Van der Burgh, who broke the breaststroke world record on Sunday.
Although the South African relay team finished outside the medals in both the 4×100 and 4×200 freestyle, the two individual golds will give the African nation hope that its swimming programme is undergoing a renaissance.
The South Africans took three medals in Athens but was disappointed to go home empty-handed from Beijing and the 20-year-old Le Clos said the future looked positive, with a group of young athletes waiting in the wings.
“I really believe that the future’s bright for us,” he said.
“I think the main thing is that we had the country behind us this time, and we had a lot of support back home.”