Chad le Clos pulls out of world champs to focus on Olympic dream

12 July 2023 - 09:00
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Chad Le Clos after competing in the 100m freestyle heats at the SA championships in Gqeberha in April.
Chad Le Clos after competing in the 100m freestyle heats at the SA championships in Gqeberha in April.
Image: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images

Chad le Clos has withdrawn from the world championships starting in Japan next weekend, saying he needed extra training time for his bid to make the podium at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Le Clos, South Africa’s most decorated Olympian with four medals, confirmed his decision after delivering what he considered slow times at a gala in Berlin, Germany, last weekend.

His withdrawal means South Africa will field none of its top men in Fukuoka, with backstroker Pieter Coetzé and medley star Matthew Sates also opting to sit this out. The heavy hitters are to be found among the women, notably breaststrokers Tatjana Schoenmaker and Lara van Niekerk.

Le Clos said he had been hampered by illness after the national championships in Gqeberha in April, and was unable to train properly for seven weeks until late May.

“Just give me a nine-month stint of no injuries and no sickness, I promise you, you’ll see a different level of swimmer,” Le Clos said from his training base in Germany on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m going to swim my best times next year.”

Le Clos, who shot to prominence when he dethroned Michael Phelps to win the 200m butterfly at the 2012 London Games, said he had almost certainly retired the four-lap race from his roster.

His focus now is the 100m butterfly and 100m freestyle, the blue riband event of world swimming. His best times in those events are 50.56 sec (from 2015) and 48.15 (from 2018) respectively.

Le Clos’s build-up for the Games will include the World Cup circuit later this year, which will be staged in Olympic-sized 50m pools instead of over 25m short-course laps.

“I want to go all-in on the 100 fly. The 100 free is more of a ‘if it happens, it happens’ kind of thing,” said Le Clos, who lifted Olympic silvers in the 100m butterfly in 2012 and again at Rio 2016.

He will continue doing the 200m butterfly in short-course competition, where his next major gala is only late next year.

Le Clos, who underwent a sinus operation after the 2022 Commonwealth Games, had been struggling with that again recently and said he would go for another scan when he returned to Cape Town for a short break in the next week or so.

“I still have some difficulty every month or two so I’ve got to change something. I’ve got to change the spray. I have a lot of allergies,” he said, adding he had inherited an autoimmune gene from his father, Bert, which made him more susceptible to illness.

“I’m going to start training literally on August 1. I’m going to be training while they’re finishing world champs in three weeks’ time. I’m going to have already started my training for the Olympics, two, three weeks ahead of everybody else.”

The swimming leg of the world championships in Fukuoka runs from July 23 to 30, though diving and artistic swimming begin on Friday.

World Aquatics has introduced an extra world championships to be held in Doha in February next year, and for that local swimmers will have trials in December.

Le Clos has already mapped out his progress.

“I think by the end of the year I’m close to 50 points [for the 100m fly] and close to 47 [100m freestyle] — that’s 51-low, 48-low. I think that would be exactly where I need to be six months before [the Olympics].

“That means that with a shave and a rest I’m 50-point-low and 47.7, 47.6 and that’s within medals and within top five of the world at the championships and then obviously push on to the Olympics where I’ll be a little bit better.”

“[Olympic] gold is the dream, gold is always the plan,” he said, “but a medal or two would still be a huge success.”

Indeed it would. No South African has won an Olympic medal eight years apart, but Le Clos will bid to become the first to do so in Paris.

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