Chad le Clos

He had beaten Michael Phelps before. But not like this. Not in the greatest sporting theatre there is. This time Durbanite Chad le Clos was also behind for much of the 200m butterfly final at the 2012 London Games. The surge that looped his muscly body over the water and past his boyhood hero and the most decorated Olympian of all time is what made this gold medal iconic. It’s worth remembering what earned Le Clos that 0.05 second margin. “I’m training 10 sessions a week,” he said a month before the Games opened. “Right now, it’s 7km in the morning and another 6km in the evening. But I’ll get up to 20km a day soon.” The omens of international glory were there from at least the 2010 Youth Olympics in Singapore. Then 17, Le Clos thundered to five medals across his favourite disciplines: butterfly, freestyle and the individual medley. Not two months later that infectious smile was gleaming again after five more medals at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Still, Le Clos reckons, “it all started in Dubai for me, because I didn’t expect to swim so fast there”. He’s talking about the 1.51.56 he swam for 200m ‘fly gold in the World Cup event that December — nearly five seconds faster than his Commonwealth gold in October. Named 2012 Sports Star of the Year in South Africa, Le Clos is now that and more. A-list celebrity, role model, sex symbol, the swimmer with the beach-boy looks accepts the praise with bashful gratitude. Le Clos called winning Olympic gold the greatest moment of his life. “Nothing could ever compare to this moment,” he declared through tears of poolside joy. But remember, the plan has long been for him to test the waters in London and then dominate at Rio 2016. — Ian Macleod