Still time for Le Clos to be an ‘all-time great’

Swim­mer is train­ing hard to beat Michael Phelps at Rio Olympics, writes Duncan Guy

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IT’S THE week be­tween re­turn­ing from the Doha cham­pi­onships and Turf­fontein in the hec­tic life of Dur­ban swim­ming star Chad le Clos. He is sit­ting, sport­ing a Movem­ber beard, on a com­fort­able couch in front of a large-screen tele­vi­sion set in the up­stairs flat that is his sec­tion of his fam­ily’s Pine­town home, nearly R700 000 richer af­ter com­ing sec­ond to an­other South African, Cameron van der Burgh, in the Fina World Cup Se­ries in Dubai.

The place is a hive of ac­tiv­ity with swim­ming lessons in progress in the pool in the front gar­den, and his ever-present dad, Bert, cook­ing up a huge spaghetti bolog­naise “for the boys who will be hun­gry af­ter swim­ming”.

They are Le Clos and his swim­ming mates who are keep­ing him com­pany as sits with his leg up with an ice pack on his knee, an in­flam­ma­tion he picked up in Doha. He didn’t pick it up from swim­ming the 140km he clocked in the pool at the Fina Swim­ming World Cup in Qatar, but from walk­ing.

“I would al­ways walk to the pool. It was a quicker way of get­ting there than tak­ing trans­port through the city. Our ac­com­mo­da­tion was quite far. (The in­flam­ma­tion) is to do with my me­chan­ics. I have bad feet.”

His dad ex­pected to see him ar­rive in a wheel­chair on Fri­day when he jet­ted into King Shaka In­ter­na­tional Air­port where more walk­ing would have been ex­pected at the air­port. (In a few weeks, Dur­ban­bound pas­sen­gers will be able to fly direct on the new Qatar Air­lines).

But Le Clos walked in on “all twos”, slap into a wel­com­ing crowd of young­sters from the La­montville Swim­ming Club.

He’s been keep­ing his legs still, stick­ing to arm train­ing at La­hee Park pool.

To­day, how­ever, the Olympic gold medal­list will be fly­ing up to Johannesburg for a day at the races. He’ll watch Un­be­liev­able Chad le Clos, a horse he has shares in that he calls “my baby”, on the track at Turf­fontein Race Course.

“Dad sug­gested I try horses, not for the money, just for en­joy­ment. It gives me a dif­fer­ent side to life.

“I am ex­cited. I am at­tached to the horse. I feel the proud un­cle. The trainer (Bert’s friend, Paul Laf­ferty) is the fa­ther.”

The jockey wears a hat of the same green Le Clos wears rep­re­sent­ing South Africa, and his green jacket is dec­o­rated with Olympic rings.

“She won her maiden race at Scottsville. I want her to run in the Dur­ban July one day. I look at her as my­self. I like to win.”

“Win” is per­haps a new key­word for Le Clos, 10 months be­fore the Rio Olympics, as he looks back on who he was 10 months be­fore the Lon­don Olympics of 2012.

“Ten months be­fore Lon­don I was just fine win­ning world ti­tles. I wasn’t by any means a favourite for a gold and I didn’t have lots of press.

“It was a time when I needed a medal rather than to win.”

Be­fore the Lon­don Olympics, Le Clos was 19, fresh out of Westville Boys’ High.

“You beat the best and life changes,” he says, re­fer­ring to his beat­ing arch-ri­val Amer­i­can Phelps at the 2012 event.

“You be­come a house­hold name in South Africa, and in the world.

“You can’t pre­pare for that. Fly­ing around the world, life changes. It comes with the ter­ri­tory.”

His chal­lenge has since been to not only main­tain him­self but also to man­age be­ing in the me­dia spot­light.

“I have to deal with me­dia obli­ga­tions. I was told that af­ter the Olympics it would all be eas­ier. It’s ac­tu­ally harder. The pres­sure of stay­ing at the top, nurs­ing in­juries.

“There’s a lot more pres­sure on me this time around but I am definitely now more ma­ture as an ath­lete.”

He cred­its his fam­ily for help­ing him through.

“I don’t have a sports psy­chol­o­gist. But I think this (a sup­port­ing fam­ily) is the best way to deal with the pres­sure.”

So­cially, he makes an ef­fort to stick to him­self and be­ing with­out a cell­phone helps.

“I just keep to my­self. I do what I need to do.”

At the cen­tre of his so­cial cir­cle are his fam­ily and friends.

Friends are mainly swim­ming groups and peo­ple he was at school with – about half and half.

“I don’t have many friends,” he says. “Just close friends.”

Le Clos also be­lieves that be­ing South African is an as­set.

“We don’t have the great­est fa­cil­i­ties but we make it hap­pen. We aren’t paid the same money as Amer­i­cans and Aus­tralians, but we’re tougher. We want it that much more.

“I at­tribute how we are to our history.

“I am grate­ful for where we come from. I am proud of what we have achieved. It’s not just be­cause of luck.”

South Africa has also pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity to be a “peo­ple’s cham­pion” in a di­verse so­ci­ety.

“My sup­port in South Africa is from fans of all races.

I go into town­ships and other places and I am ex­posed to many dif­fer­ent cul­tures.”

An­other chal­lenge against Phelps awaits Le Clos at next year’s Olympics.

“It’ll be the race of the cen­tury in Rio. I want to race Phelps at his best. It will be a big achieve­ment for a young Dur­ban boy who had a dream. Beat­ing Michael Phelps twice will be a big hon­our. “May the best man win.” He doesn’t think his arch-ri­val likes him very much.

“We used to be in touch but he un­fol­lowed me on Twit­ter. Maybe it’s just be­cause he’s fo­cused now.

“But he’ll al­ways be a role model in terms of what he has achieved in the world.”

Swim­ming aside, Le Clos looks for­ward to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the city of Rio. “The foot­ball will be great, we’ll have a nice car­ni­val-like time on the beach.

“Beach vol­ley­ball will be a cracker to watch.

“It will be hard for any­where to beat Lon­don as a city to host the Olympics for the way it was run. Plus, there was no lan­guage bar­rier.

“But if any place will beat Lon­don, it will be Rio.” And af­ter that? Le Clos expects to be slow­ing down a bit by the time the 2022 Com­mon­wealth Games are held on home ground but there’s nonethe­less time still “for me to es­tab­lish my­self as an all-time great”.

PIC­TURE: MAR­I­LYN BERNARD

TAK­ING IT EASY: Chad le Clos at home with a cold pack on his knee.

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