Chad Le Clos Finds Redemption in Emotional World Title

Photo Courtesy: SPIA USA

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By David Rieder.

Chad Le Clos was 20 years old and in his first Olympic Games, his second Olympic final, when he took down a legend. That time, there were no tears, only joy.

Michael Phelps was bidding for a then-unprecedented third straight Olympic gold in the men’s 200 fly, but Le Clos, with a monstrous final 50 and a well-timed touch, got in just ahead. Le Clos was exuberant as he stood on the podium, his goggles dangling around his neck.

When he won the World title in the same event five years later in Budapest, tears dripped from Le Clos’ eyes as he stood on the podium—still wearing his goggles on his neck. After all that had happened in his life during the previous year, this one was special.

At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Le Clos had set his mind on again upsetting Phelps in the 200 fly, and he made his intentions clear through a well-placed shadowboxing routine—carried out while standing directly in front of Phelps in the ready room.

phelps-200fly-celebration-rio-gold

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Phelps wasn’t having any of it. In the Olympic final, Phelps held the lead at the halfway point and refused to give it up, even as he faded badly down the stretch. Le Clos was clearly second with 25 meters to go, but he fell apart and ended up missing the medals entirely.

Le Clos did leave Rio with two silver medals—he had come out of nowhere to get on the podium in the 200 free and also tied with Phelps and Laszlo Cseh for silver in the 100 fly—but the loss in his signature event was crushing.

“Losing last year was the lowest moment of my career,” he said. “I try to pretend like it wasn’t, but I was in a very bad place last year. I tried to be strong, and I tried to lie to the media and say, ‘Ah, I’m good, I’m good,’ but I was down and out.”

At that juncture in his career, Le Clos could have opted to move his focus away from the 200 fly, to focus on the 100 fly and on the freestyles. But he vowed to return to the event where he first made a name for himself and make no excuses.

Going into 2017, Le Clos wanted nothing more than to get back his title as the best in the world in the 200 fly. Risks would be worth taking to pull that off, so Le Clos went out and gambled all he had.

Swimming from lane six in the World Championships final, Le Clos went all-out from the start. He was up by seven tenths at the first turn and more than a second by the halfway point. His 100-meter split, in fact, was just three tenths off world record pace. Le Clos had laid his cards on the table, and now it was for someone to try to catch him.

One lane over, the man making a run at Le Clos had 12,000 screaming fans behind him. All Hungarian swimmers have received massive support at the World Championships, but few are more beloved than Cseh.

Cseh had been a force internationally since 2003, and at 31, he was going for a defense of his 2015 World title in the event. Cseh was coming hard, but Le Clos would not give in.

The South African got the win in 1:53.33, four tenths ahead of Cseh. Japan’s Daiya Seto took the bronze.

chas-le-clos-rsa-laszlo-hun-2017-world-champs

Photo Courtesy: SIPA USA

Le Clos swam over to Cseh, and the two friends embraced at the lane line. Le Clos held up Cseh’s arm as the crowd serenaded him. Certainly, performing well in front of his home crowd meant a lot for Cseh, who has admitted that he’s unsure of his future in the sport.

But the moment belonged to Le Clos—he had his redemption, and the raw emotions came out on the medal podium. He thought of his parents, both in attendance in Budapest after undergoing major cancer treatments during the past year.

“I said I would come back and try to respond, and I did so,” Le Clos said. “Unbelievable feeling, unbelievable emotion. I tried not to be emotional, but it’s hard on such a big occasion.”

Le Clos is an extrovert, and his antics at meets get him plenty of attention. In Rio, a few days after the shadowboxing routine, he insisted that he, Phelps and Cseh all hold hands on the medal podium after they finished in a three-way tie for silver in the 100 fly.

But beneath that exterior over the past year has been a man deeply hurt because of what happened in Rio and because of the challenges life has thrown at him out of the pool with his parents’ precarious health.

A World title in swimming typically carries slightly less weight than an Olympic gold medal, but not this time, not for Chad Le Clos, not after all that had happened over the previous 12 months.

25 Comments

25 comments

  1. Cali Ahmed

    🇿🇦❤️🏊🏼👏🏾👏🏾

  2. Susan Griley

    Sad after what he did to Michael Phelps I have a bad first impression of this swimmer

  3. Meg Murphy

    Not my favorite swimmer.

  4. avatar
    David

    Good article

  5. Allen Wone

    not Phelps never will be

  6. Pam Reynecke

    Proud of Chad for coming back like he has. He made mistakes but it looks like he’s hopefully learned from them 🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦🇿🇦

  7. Laikhuram Robert

    Just someone tell me what did he do to Michael Phelps at previous

    • Tammy Lee

      Well, he shot off his mouth taunti.g Michael Phelps that his time wasn’t that fast, I don’t remember exactly what was said. Then at the Rio Olympics, before a race, Chad was shadow boxing in front of Michael trying to intimidate him, which led to “Phelps face.”

  8. avatar
    Don

    Thanks for your insight.

  9. Sarah Yasser

    Seriously why all the hate? He’s a great swimmer and above all I dont know how he can do all this while both of his parents are battelling cancer. I wish him all the best.

    • avatar
      Katja

      He was actually faster than michael was at rio 😉

  10. Noria Gaier

    Chad is a nice, great, sympathetic, down to earth guy with a big big big hart. For all of those who badly judged him you are all WRONG!
    Have you ever met him? I did!

  11. avatar
    Matt

    Maybe it´s time for Cseh and Gyurta to abdicate – and leave the future to Kristof Milak and Nandor Nemeth?

Author: David Rieder

avatar
David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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