Clos call: South African stuns Phelps in 200 fly

Chad le Clos has grown friendly with Michael Phelps over the

past year and gleaned some pointers from the American standout.

He was hoping the advice would help him win an Olympic medal. He

just didn’t expect it to be of the gold variety.

But that’s what Le Clos had around his neck after a stunning

come-from-behind victory over Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly

Tuesday.

”He has always been an inspiration to me and a role model,” Le

Clos said. ”I’ve watched all his races a million times and I’ve

run the commentary over and now I guess I can watch my race.”

Phelps has been so dominant in the 200 fly over the past decade

that Le Clos wasn’t even contemplating contending for victory.

Phelps probably wasn’t expecting it either. Otherwise, why would

he have offered Le Close free advice last year?

This was supposed to be the race where Phelps became the first

man to win the same event at three consecutive games and tie Soviet

gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympian of all

time.

Well, Phelps got the medal he needed for the record – then got

his record-breaking 19th medal in a later relay – but it wasn’t the

one he wanted.

”Just to be in the final for me was a great honor,” said Le

Clos, a 20-year-old South African who is competing at his first

Olympics. ”I didn’t really think I was actually going to win the

race.”

Phelps led nearly the entire race but tried to glide into the

wall instead of taking one more stroke. Le Clos made a late charge

and took that extra stroke to win by five-hundredths of a

second.

”I was on the receiving end of getting touched out,” Phelps

said. ”Chad swam a good race. I’ve gotten to know him a little

over the last year. He’s a hard worker, he’s a tough competitor and

he’s a racer.”

Le Clos pounded the water when he saw the ”1” beside his

name.

”I knew he finished strong and he used his last underwater to

his advantage,” Le Clos said. ”It sounds crazy but I actually

thought I was Michael on the last turn. I just felt like I can try

to do something special. The last 25 meters actually came in

slo-mo.”

Phelps hung on the lane rope and buried his face in his hands,

disgusted with himself for having squandered what looked like a

sure gold. Le Clos won in 1 minute, 52.96 seconds. Phelps finished

in 1:53.01, while Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda took the bronze in

1:53.21.

It was South Africa’s second swimming gold of the games after

Cameron van der Burgh won the 100 breaststroke Sunday.

Le Clos won five medals at the 2010 Commonwealth Games as a

teenager and took his first major gold at the senior level in the

200 fly at the short-course world championships in Dubai that same

year.

Le Clos also won five medals at the 2010 Youth Olympics – where

Phelps was an ambassador – and outswam the American and everyone

else to win last year’s short-course World Cup series.

It was on the World Cup series when Phelps passed on a few tips

to Le Clos. The pair spoke regularly and went out for dinner, then

met up again this year to shoot an Olympic commercial in Miami.

They also kept in touch on Twitter.

Phelps gave Le Clos some more advice Tuesday when the medalists

walked around the pool during the victory celebration, telling the

South African to ”live the moment and enjoy it because it really

is special.”

But Le Clos isn’t done with these games.

He’s in the 200 individual medley heats Wednesday, then will

face Phelps again in the 100 fly heats Thursday.

”This is the start of something great, hopefully,” Le Clos

said, also referring to Van der Burgh’s win. ”We have a fantastic

group of swimmers at this Olympics and even in 2016 it’s looking

positive.”

”I really believe the future is bright for us,” he added.

”The main thing is we have the country behind us this time. We

have a lot of support back home. It motivated me.”