Welcome home! (Witness)
Durban - Chad le Clos is still KwaZulu-Natal’s favourite son. Of that there is no doubt thanks to the hearty welcome he received at Durban International Airport on his return from the Rio Olympics.
Four years have flown by since he returned from London as “The Phelps Slayer” after he claimed gold in a memorable 200m butterfly final, beating legendary American Michael Phelps. This time around, there was eager anticipation for the renewed rivalry in the Olympic pool, but Phelps signed off in style, winning the 200m butterfly - Le Clos finished fourth - and sharing silver with Le Clos in the 100 m butterfly.
Still, Le Clos was given a rousing welcome as he stepped into the arrivals hall. Eighty boys from his alma mater Westville Boys’ High School - the entire swimming team plus some volunteers - from Grades 8 to 12, had arrived in two buses and they sang the school song as Le Clos made his entrance.
Representatives from eThekwini and KZN Sport and Recreation were also on hand, not forgetting his family and supporters of Team Le Clos who had followed his Olympic journey with interest and sleep in their eyes.
Westville Boys’ current swimming captain, Bailey Musgrave, trains with Le Clos at Seagulls Swimming Club and had no hesitation in naming South Africa’s most decorated Olympian with one gold and three silver medals as his role model.
“He is just a genuinely great guy. I am more of a breaststroke specialist, but Chad is an example to all of us. He has shown what can be achieved through working hard and what level can be reached. He is always available for advice and is a huge inspiration to me in making the next Olympics in Tokyo my goal. 2020 here I come,” he said.
Overwhelmed by his welcome, Le Clos brushed away tears as he once again saw what his achievements had accomplished.
“This is crazy. It’s tearing me up and I am speechless,” he said.
“It’s a huge honour to represent your country and these are moments to remember forever.
“It’s been a tough few months and although there is no gold this time around, the show goes on and I am already focusing on 2020 and putting things right.”
While encouraging youngsters to reach for their dreams, Le Clos was soon facing the reality of an athlete at the top of his game, knowing that the hard yards never stopped and any easing off the pace was leading to danger.
“I am humbled to be an ambassador of South Africa and while I wanted more, there are other opportunities. There’s the World Cup starting next week and the World Champs in December, meaning I am back in the pool today after a brief rest from the flight. I need to get better,” he said.
“That 200m butterfly was the worst race of my life and there were reasons for that which I won’t discuss. Suffice to say there are no excuses. My mantra is always to win and accept defeat with grace.”
Commenting on his dealings with Phelps, Le Clos said: “Sure, there is huge rivalry and respect between us and were are level at 1-1 in the 200m Olympic butterfly. Maybe there should be a deciding showdown between us.”