South Africa's 'king of swimming' wants to be a good guy

2018 was a big one for Le Clos. He was named Best Male Swimmer of the Year at the FINA World Aquatics Gala. But for him, the most important thing is you have to be a good guy first

Some call Chad le Clos “the king of swimming from South Africa,” but the 26-year-old, who just won four medals (one gold, two silver and one bronze) at the 14th FINA world swimming championship, said: “For me, the most important thing is you have to be a good guy first.”

The year just ending was a big one for Le Clos. He was named Best Male Swimmer of the Year at the FINA World Aquatics Gala in Hangzhou. And he was honored as South Africa Sportsman of the Year for the second time, after winning three individual gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Game. The award was sponsored by the National Department of Sport and Recreation South Africa.

South Africa's 'king of swimming' wants to be a good guy
Ti Gong

Chad le Clos poses after his success in Hangzhou. 

Le Clos also opened a foundation to help children in South Africa, especially those in rural areas. “It’s really difficult for a lot of people to even get food. There are a lot of rivers and a lot of lakes, where drownings happen on a daily basis, which is unacceptable,” he said. “I think that’s something that we can try to change in South Africa and make positive changes through my name and through the sport that has given me so much. ”

But after the Hangzhou event, the Olympic champion couldn’t wait to get home to celebrate Christmas, where there would be about 110 family members squeezed into his place.

Family is very important for Le Clos, who still keeps his grandfather’s watch from the 1950s in the hometown.

“I have a huge and supportive family. I grew up in humble environment where younger kids always look up to the older kids,” he said.

It was natural for Le Clos to carry the responsibility as a role model for young swimmers and his fans. Even when he was about 13 and winning minor medals, he realized his younger cousins were looking up to the way he behaved and the way he carried himself.

“I just want kids to know that anything is possible. I come from a humble home, a humble family, and I challenged the greatest of all time,” he said.

“If you truly believe in something, you can be whatever you want to be. And I guess I’m living proof of that. I am from South Africa, now I’m on top of the world.”

“I remember when I was 12 years old, I said to my dad: ‘I’m gonna beat that guy over there,’” Le Clos added.

Even Wang Jianjiahe, the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer who dominated this year’s international swimming pool, said her role model was Le Clos. He was both surprised and happy to hear that.

“We met at the party afterward. She has a great talent, and I expect great performances from her, but no pressure,” he said.

South Africa's 'king of swimming' wants to be a good guy
Ti Gong

Chad le Clos, 26, is seen in action during the 50 meters butterfly event at the 2018 Commonwealth Game in South Africa. 

Two years after American swimmer Michael Phelps retired, the battle they had in Rio in 2016 still lingers in Le Clos’s head. It’s not that he can’t get over failure but that there’s no more chance to compete with Phelps. Now the new generation of swimmers are rushing to the swimming scene, and Le Clos is anticipating what comes next.

“I will definitely go for another decade for sure. I’ll be there in Tokyo in 2020 and Paris in 2024,” he said.

Le Clos once said that the last 50 meters in the pool was painful when his head went dizzy, and arms and legs felt like lead. But that’s the sport and the pain he loves. He proved himself once again by breaking his own 200 meters butterfly world record at FINA.

It’s almost unlikely to break a world record and lose the championship, especially in a short course. But that possibility happened this time when Japan’s Daiya Seto set up a new record and won the 200 meters butterfly championship at the event. “He just had a kid four months ago and he has grown so much. I wish him all the best with his career. But next time we will have another good race and see what happens, ” Le Clos said.

As a saying goes, one shouldn’t judge a man’s character for how he celebrates but how they respond in the face of adversity.

Before Le Clos won the gold medal two days after that defeat, he underwent some thoughts. “It wasn’t easy. I’d be lying if I said it was easy, getting silver that evening,” he said. “But I just got back and I said: ‘I did my best.’ I’m never gonna quit. I’m gonna be strong. If they beat me, what can I say? God bless them.”

“It doesn’t matter what happens at the end of the day, if you could do your best and you can bounce back from whatever adversity you have in your life, not just swimming. I want to make sure that I give my best. And if my best is not good enough, then congrats and fair play,” he said, feeling he has made big improvements to his speed and strength. 

“It’s going to be very important for me to maintain and make improvements again on my strength, my physicality and athleticism.” The swimmer has fixed his eyes on medals at next year’s World Championship in South Korea, then Tokyo.

But for now, he is celebrating the Christmas season with his family and wishing everyone a happy new year.

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