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A look back in time at an interview we had with Chad le Clos before edged out Phelps in the 2012 Olympics
Years ago a fifteen-year-old Le Clos would wake up to watch the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, witnessing a 22-year-old Michael Phelps leaving his challengers in his wake en route to a gold medal on eight occasions.
Phelps’s achievements stirred the adolescent to explore a new stroke. “After the Beijing Games I started to swim butterfly. It was never really my strongpoint but I felt so inspired by him,” he says.
Two years later, in 2010, he took part in his first international competition at the Youth Olympics in Singapore, and discovered what he was capable of.
These pre-dawn commitments that comprise Le Clos’ seemingly swift rise are often disregarded.
“The public doesn’t understand the sport,” he says. “It’s very lonely – ask any swimmer. You’re at the bottom of the pool looking at the black line the whole day.”
“It takes dedication,” he says. “It’s not like you’re a substitute in a soccer game, you come on and score the winning goal in the last minute and you’re a hero. There’s no-one here like that in swimming – you can’t just dive in and beat Michael Phelps.”
There it is again – that theme of defeating your idols. He’s not just talking about winning, he’s talking about beating Michael Phelps.
“Racing him… kinda… I don’t know why… it just is…”
He wants to say it.
He wants to say he wants to beat him. He’s been toying between the notions of speaking freely and speaking appropriately. The uhms and ellipses are sprouting, as they do before blurts of honesty.
“I just feel, like… you know… before he retires…”
“I wanna, like…” And then it flows.
“I want to say that I beat him. I want to go out there and beat the best. To be the best means racing the greatest that’s ever been. I almost wish that I was born eight years back so I could have raced him when he was growing up.”