Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The man with the golden touch: How South Africa's Chad Le Clos edged out Michael Phelps, the world's greatest Olympian

The man with the golden touch: South Africa's Chad Le Clos 

THERE will never be a more dramatic Olympic moment for South Africa than Chad Le Clos’s golden touch in the 200m butterfly at the glittering new London Aquatic Centre last night.
Sure, Cameron van der Burgh’s world record victory in the 100m backstroke was pretty special as he claimed Africa’s first medal of the 30th Olympiad on Sunday night.
But it was the sheer drama of Le Clos’s triumph 48 hours later which makes South Africa’s second gold medal so special, so historic – and put the Rainbow nation ahead of Australia and hosts Great Britain on the medal table.
Afterwards, the 20-year-old from Durban sobbed through the national anthem before gushing: “Michael Phelps is my hero. I love the guy. I just wanted to race him in the final and I've beaten him. I can't believe it.
“It's been a dream of mine ever since I was a little boy. This is the greatest moment of my life. To beat Phelps, I can't believe it. You don't understand what this means to me.”
And of course, that’s the point. Phelps was the big character here. The world’s greatest ever swimmer was bidding to became the first male to win the same individual event at three Olympics.
Though it was given precious little hype by the local broadcasters, it was one of THOSE finishes. The kind you’ll remember with a huge grin when you’re old and cynical.
There was the greatest swimmer of all time, soon to be the greatest Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps cruising out in front. This was the night he would equal the great Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina’s all-time record of 16 gold medals.
And Le Clos, the lad who matriculated from Westville Boys in 2009 was trailing in third after two lengths against the man famous for winning tight finishes.
But unlike compatriot Van Der Burgh who is unbeatable over 50m in the breast-stroke, Le Clos is a strong finisher in the 200m butterfly. As they came down the last, he was third. Then second… and the commentators told us: “It’s Phelps, on his way to history. He’s got the lead, but is it a winning lead.  
“It’s going to be close, Phelps is hanging on, he’s a winner… does he touch? He DOESN'T. Le Clos GETS THE TOUCH! Incredible. The greatest swimmer we’ve even seen makes a rookie mistake.”
All around the pool – and all around the world – incredulity reigned. “The man who doesn’t make mistakes has made a mistake,” they told us, unsure how to find the words, unsure what to say about Le Clos, who was described as French by Reuters and Russian by USA Today’s tweets.
At one point, the commentators on the global feed told us about “Phelps’ controversial defeat” as if the great man had been wronged - but of course there was nothing controversial about it. He simply got done on the line by a youngster who said before London that he was “just warming up for Rio in 2016”.
To be fair, the commentators did manage to drag themselves away from Phelps for brief seconds: “You don’t get a bigger scalp ever than Michael Phelps,” was one effort, while they also applauded the emergence of France and South Africa in the pool.
Still, with the SABC and SuperSport sticking to the global feeds, the social networks were awash with complaints. And it was a full hour before we saw Chad again… for the medal ceremony. No attempt was made to get a microphone to Le Clos, despite the myriad of reporters sent to England for the Olympics.
Le Clos sobbed throughout the second rendition of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika in three nights, and Phelps managed to keep a smile on his face throughout.
Twenty minutes later, Phelps and the USA went on to win the 4x200m freestyle relay from France while South Africa, with Le Clos swimming a game third leg, finished seventh. And all the talk was of Phelps again, as he drew within a single gold of the all-time record and became, with 19, the leading medal winner of all time with 19 of all colours.
And speaking of colour, many twats on twitter began asking if Le Clos was white or coloured. As I told them: he’s not black, white or coloured. He’s simply pure gold.

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