Michael Phelps (Getty Images)
Cape Town - It was brave, it was audacious ... but given the undesired big-picture outcome, history may forever recall it as
a candidate for the gallery of significant South African sporting gaffes.
Team SA schedule: Wednesday, August 10 in Rio
When Chad le Clos did his much-revisited (you
can do it at the mere click of a few buttons these days, over and over if you
wish) pugilistic swaggering, smack in front of a dagger-eyed American swimming
legend Michael Phelps, it is painfully clear now that all he did was poke a
bear in the ribcage.
I have always shied from doing that myself,
not being the most valiant of sorts in the wild or even in more urban settings,
but hunters and intrepid explorers generally advise that it is not a good idea.
Le Clos, perhaps understandably still a
little gung-ho from his above-expectation Olympic silver medal in the 200m
freestyle, effectively overlooked that sage tip as he boogied and shadow-boxed
before a bemused, seated Phelps - all the while knowing that their much-touted
showdown in the 200m butterfly main event already loomed pretty large.
READ: Michael Phelps' reaction to Chad le Clos' shadow-boxing breaks the internet!
Records show starkly now that the defending
champion of the event from London 2012 went from hero to well-nigh zero,
really, in his favoured discipline by not even making it to the medals podium
this time, ending a galling fourth as Phelps basked in the glory and gluttony of
a 20th Olympic personal gold (later to become 21, too).
“There wasn’t a shot in hell I was losing
that tonight,” said Phelps afterwards, a statement so obviously, albeit not
overtly, laced with reference to Le Clos’s attempted psyche-him-out antics.
You almost sensed, too, that in bilateral
terms it was a case of swaggering Uncle Sam putting the gobby little upstart
South Africa firmly in its place.
Sportspeople from our shores and everywhere
else, bless them, have tried such unsettling, testosterone-laced gestures when
faced by a formidable foe - or foes - before.
Sometimes they pay off, of course ... and
let’s never doubt that they are great for box-office appeal and pre-combat
But it is when they bomb that onlookers’
perversely unforgiving appetite and memory for failure comes firmly into play.
I could not help sensing some connection,
just hours after Le Clos’s relative agony early on Wednesday morning (SA time),
when the world’s major cricket website Cricinfo
tweeted a link to a major feature marking 40 years since the seminal - and hot
in every respect - English summer of 1976, when a fast-emerging West Indies
thrashed their establishment-giant hosts 3-0 in a five-Test series on their own
England’s South African-born captain Tony
Greig placed his hand with infamous indelicacy into a hornets’ nest beforehand
as he suggested England would make their opponents “grovel”.
For diplomacy, considering that it was the particularly
repressive height of apartheid, Greig scored a notable zero, only providing a
magnificently athletic array of black panthers, if you like, in the West
Indies’ pace bowling attack with extra zeal to rock heads and smash deliveries
into bodies - which they duly did, all summer long.
Albeit rather less politically charged by
then, and an attempted lay-down-the-gauntlet event marked more by actions than
words, Fanie de Villiers similarly ventured into high-risk territory on South Africa’s
first post-isolation Test tour of the very England in 1994.
With the third and final encounter at The
Oval on a knife edge and SA battling to preserve a 1-0 lead, “Vinnige Fanie” brazenly
bypassed the (already fading, admittedly) etiquette of “thou shalt not bounce a
tail-end bunny” by clattering a short-pitched delivery into the helmet of
unpredictable England strike bowler Devon Malcolm.
Riled as much by the reported chirps from
the South African close-in fielders immediately following it, Malcolm famously
muttered his “you’re history, mon” threat ... and crucially devastated the SA
second innings, claiming 9/57 in a positively frightening, match-tilting
display of grievous bodily harm of his own.
In rugby terms, a major personal
recollection of Springbok baiting-gone-pear-shaped occurred in the 2002
Tri-Nations clash with the arch-enemy All Blacks in Wellington.
Corne Krige’s visiting charges, in their
wisdom, decided to counter the age-old Haka - it is more common practice for
New Zealand opponents to “respect” it - by advancing provocatively on the All
Blacks and using their own, albeit short-lived Asijiki (Xhosa for “no turning
back”) war cry as a counter.
Alas, the Boks could not back up their bark
with required amounts of bite, succumbing 41-20 and by five tries to two, and
Asijiki was quietly returned to the cupboard.
Nice try in Rio, Chad, and you still have a
firm place in our hearts, not least because of your still regular brilliance in
your own, proudly South African right.
But ouch ... emphatically no cigar for that
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing