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Keys To The Whole Of Africa For Le Clos

Jul 31, 2012  - Craig Lord

Olympic Games, London, Day 4 finals: 

Men's 200m butterfly

The keys to the whole of Africa await Chad Le Clos back home in the south: in 1:52.96, by 0.05sec, he stopped Michael Phelps (USA) from making history as the first man to win the same title at three Games.

Phelps swam a brave race, first at the half-way turn in 53.70 - but his speed did not unnerve Le Clos and Takeshi Matsuda (JPN), who have long studied the great one's every race and stuck to the champion like glue. Phelps had a poor (clumsy and faltering) turn going into the wall at the last turn, then drove off wall well and managed to hold off Le Clos almost all the way.

Indeed, it looked for all the world that the triple was in the bag at about 15m from home, so rare has it been for anyone to overhaul Phelps at that stage of the game. 

Youth has a way of claiming its time. Le Clos, coached by Graham Hill, drew on every reserve he could find to claw and bounce his way level with the champion and nailed his last stroke as the hunter, the hunted felled 1:52.96 to 1:53.01. Matsuda took bronze in 1:53.21. A fabulous race.

Le Clos roared, punched the air, held his head. This was no dream come true it was the best there could have been. The birth of his first child might remind him of the soaring sense of thrill one day. Phelps looked annoyed and a touch dumbfounded, his frustration with self, his competitive manners in tact, plaudits for Le Clos flowing.

And so much for conspiracy theories that tell us Omega could manipulate the timing to make Phelps win - we always knew that was pure nonsense. 

Phelp's consolation: he matched the all-time record of 18 medals won by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina. The Russian had offered the IOC to be here tonight to present Phelps with his medals (the 4x200m free to come) but the blazers refused to give up their only moment to stand in front of a camera with the stars of the show. Pity.

Some context on Phelps: he didn't need to do this but he did and he gave a great show, at the end of which he has every right to hold his head high. 

Chad Guy Bertrand le Clos, 20, broke down in tears after going down in history as the man who felled Michael Phelps in his signature race on the day the American became the most decorated Olympian of all time with a 19th career medal that extended his record golden tally to 15.

The emotions on show in the water after the race, along a gauntlet of TV crews and newspapers clammering for his attention, and on the podium, spilled out into the stands and up into BBC TV's gantry when Le Cos senior was plonked in front of Claire Balding for an impromptu meeting with the British people. 

How did he feel? "Unbelievable, Unbelievable, Unbelievable! I've never been so happy in my life," said Bert in deep Afrikaanglish. "Whatever happens in my life now is plain sailing," he added before catching a view of his son on a nearby camera. "…and he's beautiful, what a beautiful boy, look at him. Oh My God! Every time I see my son … oh f**k!" said dad.

Then he turned to the splendid Balding and asked "Is this live." Yes. "Oh, sorry," he gushed. "You're alright, you're alright," said Balding trying to stop tears of joy and amusement at the portly man before her telling the nation "Thanks Great Britain".

Still a school boy at Westville Boys' High School in Durban, South Africa, when he became Commonwealth champion in 2010 at the age of 18 and was voted South African Sports Person of the Year by national media, Le Clos could barely hold back the sobs as he said: "This is a dream of mine, I have always said Michael Phelps was my hero. I wanted to be in the final for my main event, I achieved that goal and my coach [Graham Hill at the Seagulls club] said you have done all you have to do. But I just remember sitting in the call room thinking that Michael Phelps has never lost this race for 10 years in international meets."

Le Clos said he would have flashbacks of the race for the rest of his life: "I remember turning in the last 50 and just looking at him underwater and realising this is my hero, it's crazy. I can't describe how I felt. In the last 25 metres, I can't explain what came over me. I am shocked by how many people seem to know me back home now.

"I'll have to try and defend my title in four years time, but to beat Michael Phelps is something I have wanted my whole life, it is exactly what I have been dreaming off since I was 12," said a boy who has been training with Hill since he was 10.

Le Close collected the $100,000 world cup prize late last year. His stock will have risen tenfold and more by the time he gets back to South Africa, where the twittersphere went wild with more well-wishing tweets than the new alpha male of butterfly swimming has hairs on his "beautiful" mane.

Phelps was disappointed but was philosophical and paid plaudits to Le Clos, saying: "Obviously I would have liked to have had a better outcome. Chad swam a great race, I have got to know him over the last year, he is a hard worker, a fast racer and a tough competitor. I would have liked to have won my last race, but it wasn't a terrible time. It was decent."

London 2012:

  • 1. Le Clos 1:52.96
  • 2. Phelps 1:53.01
  • 3. Matsuda 1:53.21

Beijing 2008:

  • 1. Michael Phelps (USA) 1:52.03 WR (25.36; 53.53; 1:22.75; 1:52.03)
  • 2. Laszlo Cseh (HUN) 1:52.70
  • 3. Takeshi Matsuda  (JPN) 1:52.97

Fastest field: Beijing 2008: 1:52.03 - 1:55.14 (bronze in Athens would not have been among the top 8)

Comparison fields:

  • London 2012:  1:52.96 - 1:55.18
  • Shanghai 2011: 1:53.34 - 1:55.53
  • Beijing 2008: 1:52.03 - 1:55.14
  • Melbourne 2007: 1:52.09 - 1:58.15
  • Athens 2004: 1:54.04 - 1:57.48 

To qualify for the final it took: 

  • 1:55.13 London 2012
  • 1:55.85 Shanghai 2011
  • 1:55.35 Beijing 2008