A largely unexpected silver in the 200m freestyle and a taste of action against Michael Phelps left South Africa’s Chad le Clos with a night to remember at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio on Monday.
It is his third Olympic medal following the silver and gold he picked up at London 2012.
When Le Clos qualified seventh fastest for the final earlier in the day, there were concerns that he had unnecessarily taken on too heavy a workload.
He faded badly in the last 50m in both the heat and the semi-final and it seemed that he would not have enough left in the tank to challenge when it mattered.
A medal looked a long way off.
But, by now, we should know better.
Le Clos is no ordinary athlete and he went through 50m in world record pace (23.39) and was ahead when he made the turn for the last 50m.
All of a sudden an unlikely medal had turned into a possible gold.
It wasn’t to be – Le Clos was edged by China’s Sun Yang – but silver in a swim that is not Le Clos’s favoured event or stroke has made a serious statement.
Le Clos did not have long to celebrate as he was not done for the night.
The small matter of a 200m butterfly semi-final against Michael Phelps awaited, less than 50 minutes after he had stunned the freestyle world.
In between that Le Clos took part in the medal ceremony, using the podium to stretch as he prepared for Phelps.
The main event will come on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning, SA time), but the semi-final provided a taste of a rivalry that has been brewing for four years.
It was far from spectacular – Phelps finishing second (1.54.12) and Le Clos third (1.55.19). Both advanced comfortably through to the final – Phelps second fastest and Le Clos fourth fastest.
But while the headline act is yet to come, Monday night was all about another medal for South Africa.
“It was a crazy race. The tactic was definitely to go out hard. It’s the first time that I’ve ever come out that hard in any race … usually I come from behind,” Le Clos said.
“I felt like having the outside lane gave me the advantage.
“I just wanted to put it all on the line and have no regrets. I’ve got the silver and I’m obviously very happy with that, but it would have obviously been nice to win the gold.”
Le Clos added that the turnaround time of less than an hour between the 200m freestyle final and the 200m butterfly final was manageable.
“It was fine. There was no problem; I was comfortable,” he said.
“I’m very happy with tonight’s performance. That was a difficult day for me, but so far it’s good.” – Sport24