LONDON — The big stage did not swallow Chad Le Clos in its floodlights, but he was in the dark when it came to finding his way out. Michael Phelps was there, as he has been for the past decade, to show the way.
“It sounds crazy,” he said, “but I actually thought I was Michael on the last turn. The last 25 meters it actually came in slow-mo.”
It’s not crazy at all. It’s what happens when a once-in-a-lifetime athlete comes along and inspires the next generation.
“Of course. I’m his biggest fan,” Le Clos said, adding: “The legacy he’s left behind in swimming is fantastic. Even in South Africa, everybody knows Michael Phelps.”
And because of that, everybody now know Le Clos.
Read the rest of this New York Times article.
“The race for me was more than an Olympic final," Le Clos said.
"Ever since the 2004 Olympics, watching Michael Phelps win the six gold medals in Athens, he’s always been an inspiration to me and a role model
“To be next to him in the final was an honour in itself."
"I just wanted to try and beat him and, in that last 25 metres when it actually happened, I couldn’t really believe it because it was like a dream come true.”
Le Clos’ epic victory was similar to that of Phelps, in the 2008 Beijing final, where he touched first before Serbia’s Milorad Cavic, by 0.01 of a second.
The irony of losing to Le Clos by 0.05 seconds was not lost on the American as he praised the South African for his efforts in unseating him.
“Chad was there at the right place at the right time and he got his hand on the wall first,” Phelps said.
“He is a very good competitor, a very hard working kid, a very hungry kid.”
Le Clos believed he got the rub of the green beating Phelps by the smallest of margins.
“To be honest, I think I was really lucky on the finish -- I had a perfect touch and I couldn’t have asked for better,” he said.
The South African said he hoped he could inspire a generation in the way Phelps has done since he had made his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
“The legacy that he’s left behind for swimming is fantastic. He’s changed the way people around the world view swimming,” Le Clos said.
“Hopefully one day I could try to do something similar and be a role model for younger kids like he was for me.
“He is definitely the greatest Olympian of all time."
"That's been my dream, ever since I was a little boy. Michael is my hero. I just wanted to race in the final and now I've won it. I can't believe it, I really can't." - Chad Le Clos
Mens 200m Butterfly Final
1. Chad le Clos (South Africa) 1 minute 52.96 seconds
2. Michael Phelps (U.S.) 1:53.01
3. Takeshi Matsuda (Japan) 1:53.21
@ 50 metres - Phelps 1st, 0.06 ahead of Le Clos 2nd.
@ 100 metres - Phelps 1st, 0.36 ahead of Le Clos 2nd
@ 150 metres - Phelps 1st, 0.38 ahead of Le Clos 2nd
@ 200 metres - Le Clos 1st, 0.05 ahead of Phelps 2nd
“I definitely think I need to go faster if I want to win a medal...I'm pretty sure that there will be at least three or four guys that could go under 1:54.” These were Chad Le Clos' words going into the race, and his prediction turned out to be accurate. Even better, Le Clos himself came good at the very end, swimming another personal best (improving .38, nearly half a second) after slicing a second off his national record during Monday's swim (he did a 1:53.34 while Phelps swam 1:54.53 on that occasion in a separate heat).
Despite Phelps leading almost the entire 200 metres, South Africa's Chad Le Clos out-touched Phelps to clinch first, and Olympic gold for the 200 metres butterfly final.
In one of those almost unfair races so typical of swimming a tiring Phelps was still slightly ahead of the South African going into the final stroke. But Le Clos had momentum on his side, after all, the South African gained on the American right through the final 50 metres (he was 0.38 behind on his last turn).
The difference between the two: Le Clos added a final quick stroke (but put his head down and didn't breath in his final stroke) whilst Phelps glided to the wall on his last stroke, figuring he was close enough. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't. Le Clos touched in 1:52.96, five hundreds of a second faster than Phelps (a 14-time Olympic gold medallist) who was swimming in the lane beside Le Clos.
In doing so twenty year old Le Clos improved on his own national record by around half a second.
After touching Le Clos smashed the water with his arm in jubilation, and later put both hands on his head, struggling to believe what he had achieved.
Earlier Le Clos had said that he would have to give his all to even get a medal because "there are at least four who could do it."
Le Clos' father could be seen wiping tears with the South African flag in the stands.
Phelps' silver medal, meanwhile, is his 18th in total, making him the most decorated Olympian along with Larisa Latynina, a Soviet gymnast.
UPDATE: 40 minutes after the 200 metres butterfly final...Phelps wins his 19th medal in the 4 x 200 metre freestyle relay final. Le Clos also features for the South Africans, but the Americans win in style. Phelps is now the most accomplished Olympic medalist in history.