Chad Le Clos (12 April, 1992) is a South African butterfly, IM, and freestyle swimmer whose performances in 2009 and 2010 have elevated him into the spotlight as a genuine medal contender at major international events, particularly in his favourite event, the 200m butterfly.
Le Clos’ impressive run of results started at Barcelona’s Mare Nostrum meet in June, 2009 where he placed second in the 400m IM, before participating in July’s World Championships in Rome. Despite not making the final in his two strongest events (the 400m IM and 200m fly), he placed in the top 20 in both, quite an accomplishment for a 17 year-old in his first year of senior international competition.
But it was in the 2009 FINA-Arena World Cup meets that he started making serious statements about his abilities. In the four competitions that he swam in, Chad won a total of three golds, three silvers, and two bronze medals. His wins came in the 400m IM (Durban, Berlin) and 200m butterfly (Durban), and it was in Berlin that he produced his most impressive performances of the year. While he didn’t medal in the 200m fly, he broke the African record in his heat, and then broke the African 400m IM record when he won the final. But he personally reserves the greatest accomplishment of his short career for his bronze in the 200m IM, where he finished 0.58 seconds behind Michael Phelps in a race in which compatriot Darian Townsend broke the world record.
Like 2009, 2010 was quite a year for Chad. On his 18th birthday in April at the South African Nationals, he swam the world’s fourth fastest 200m butterfly of the year (1:56.86), and followed this up in June with a repeat of his 2009 silver in the 400m IM at Barcelona’s Mare Nostrum meet. His year got even better in August at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore when he won gold in the 200m IM, along with silver medals in the 100m and 200m butterfly and 400m freestyle. So emphatic was his IM victory that it catapulted him into the top 25 in the world, and prompted The Swimmer’s Circle to write: “Times like le Clos’ give some serious legitimacy to the event, and assuages fears from several federations (notably the British) that the level of competition wasn’t worth the time and the money of sending a squad.”
In October, Le Clos once again stepped it up a notch at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, where he won both the 200m fly and 400m IM, breaking the Games record in both. His phenomenal year culminated fittingly in a world title at the World Short Course Championships in Dubai, where he came from behind to snatch the 200m fly in a thrilling race. He also made the 400m IM final, finishing fifth.
Despite being a relative newcomer on the international swimming scene, Le Clos has announced himself as a real medal candidate for the 200m fly event at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, where he will no doubt build another block on the foundation of his ultimate dream – winning a medal at the 2012 London Olympics.
South African Terence Parkin is deaf. But that hasn’t stopped him from living life to the full, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with those more fortunate than him. In 2000 at the Sydney Olympic Games, he demonstrated his determination and attitude to life by winning a silver medal in the 200m breaststroke. As an inspiring example he has affected many, not least Chad Le Clos, who adopted him as his hero and has since become his friend. Chad makes no secret that Terence played a major part in his deciding to take up swimming seriously and giving up football, a passion than runs through his family.
That Chad chose Terence as a role model says much about his character, his values, and what is required of the human spirit to overcome obstacles to succeed. But for all his success in 2009 and 2010, he has kept his feet on the ground, thanks also to the influence of his family and coach Graham Hill, with whom he has trained for close to a decade in his hometown of Durban, South Africa. In a 2010 interview, Swimming World TV suggested his progress and his chosen events bear similarities with that of Michael Phelps. Flattered yet somewhat self-conscious, he offered his modest reply: “I wish”.
Given his tight family bonds, it was disappointing for all of them that parents Bert and Geraldine could not afford to be at his first major international victory at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, due to the chemotherapy treatment his mother was undergoing at the time for breast cancer. It was his – and his parents’ – proudest moment, prompting tears at home and near-tears on the podium, but it’s a feeling he’s gradually becoming more familiar with as his career has taken off since then. The growing confidence and self-belief bred by his Delhi successes brought him a World Short Course title in Dubai in 2010 and took him to the pinnacle of the sport, but he still remains level-headed, acknowledging that he might have been a tad fortunate to touch first in a very tight race.
His successes are just reward for all the hard work he’s put in, something that he readily acknowledges is necessary. Sacrifice is part of the deal, and means that he can’t go on a night out with his friends to celebrate his birthday due to his intense training schedule. “You only get one shot at it,” he says with philosophical insight. He’s nothing if not disciplined, as well as loyal, and despite the appeal of a possible US swimming scholarship, Chad currently remains committed to coach Graham Hill and local Seagulls Swimming Club.
Just as Chad chose his hero with a maturity beyond his years, youngsters in his home town and beyond could do far worse than follow his fine example.