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Chad le Clos has already beaten his idol Michael Phelps to one Olympic gold medal, and the 22-year-old South African, who is set to be one of the stars of the Rio 2016 Games, does not seem ruffled by talk of the American swimming great coming out of retirement.
“Whether Phelps competes or not, my goals will be the same,” Le Clos told rio2016.com. “But I personally think it will be great for the sport of swimming if he does compete.”
Le Clos shot to fame at the London 2012 Olympic Games by touching home 0.05 seconds ahead of Phelps – the most successful Olympian of all time – in the 200m butterfly final.
“Words cannot describe how I felt on that day. It was a perfect day,” Le Clos said.
Phelps retired after London, having taken his medal total to 22, including 18 golds, from three editions of the Games. However, it was announced this week that he will return to competition on 24-26 April, at a meet in Mesa, Arizona, USA, sparking fresh excitement that he could compete at Rio 2016.
Phelps will turn 29 in June, and while his coach Bob Bowman has played down talk of the Olympic Games for now, he said the athlete was in good shape to compete. “I think he's just going to test the waters a little bit and see how it goes,” Bowman told the Associated Press. “I wouldn't say it's a full-fledged comeback.”
Phelps may be the legend, but Le Clos is the new kid on the block and he is getting used to the limelight. As the South African explained in a special video interview for rio2016.com (see below), he was one of the main attractions at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona last year, when he won gold in the 100m and 200m butterfly events.
“It was a small tester for me, on how to deal with that pressure,” Le Clos said. “Wherever I went the camera was right on me. I wasn’t quite used to that. At the Olympics it was all on Michael [Phelps].
“I think I’m getting better with it, with time. This is what I wanted. I wanted to be the best swimmer in the world. So, I think that comes with the responsibility, and I think in Rio it’s going to be really, really big. I’m really excited.”
Le Clos, who visited Rio for the Laureus Awards last year, told rio2016.com that he was excited about returning for the Games in two years. “Rio de Janeiro is absolutely incredible; there is no other place quite like it. I think the Games are going to have a very beachy feel to them. In a way Brazil is similar to my home town [Durban], the weather is very warm and it’s a beautiful country. I think there will be a great carnival vibe too.”
The South African also revealed that his sporting career could have taken a different turn, if his feet had been shaped differently. “When I was growing up, my favorite sport was soccer. I know it sounds funny, but the shape of my feet meant I couldn’t compete at a particularly high level, so I tried swimming and I suppose the rest is history.”