Four years after stunning American legend Michael Phelps to win gold in London, Olympic champion Chad le Clos says his training has shifted up a gear over the past few weeks and he’s ready to face the most important period of his career thus far, at next month’s Rio Games.
“The last few weeks have gone well and the excitement is building. I’m really looking forward to it,” said Le Clos on Friday.
“I’m mentally strong, fit and healthy, and now I need to step up and deliver.”
With hopes placed on the 24-year-old Durbanite to become the first South African athlete to bag four medals at a single Olympics, after he edged out Phelps to win gold in the 200m butterly and secured silver in the 100m race at the 2012 London Games, he will turn out in both butterfly races again in Rio, as well as the 200m freestyle.
“If I can swim personal bests in the 100m and 200m butterfly finals I know I can get medals in both races,” he said.
“In the 200m freestyle I’m going to have to swim out my skin, but getting into the final will be the hardest thing. If I can do that, I’ll give myself a chance.”
In the 4x100m medley relay, Le Clos will form the nucleus of the quartet with Olympic breaststroke champion Cameron van der Burgh.
“I think we’ve got a good chance in the relay, and if we can swim personal bests then it’s game on, he said.
“But everyone must do their jobs. We can’t rely on one great performance to carry the team.”
In the past four years, Le Clos has earned two world titles over the 100m distance in his specialist butterfly stroke, and though he secured the 200m crown at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, he settled for silver behind Hungarian Laszlo Cseh in Kazan last year.
He also scooped seven medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, but the competition in Rio is going to be far more challenging.
Aside from a resurgent Phelps, who holds both butterfly world records, and Cseh, ranked first in the world this year, Le Clos said he expected strong opposition from Japan’s 400m medley world champion Daiya Seto and Poland’s Jan Switkowski, the 200m butterfly bronze medallist at last year’s global championships, among others.
“I think if Phelps is in an Olympic final, he will always be the man to beat, but you can’t disrespect anyone else.
“There are a lot of guys who are capable of getting medals and you have to be wary of everyone.”
Ranked fourth and seventh in the world this year in the 200m and 100m butterfly, respectively, and a lowly 30th in the 200m freestyle list, Le Clos remained confident of putting up a fight after displaying fine form by grabbing eight medals at the three-leg Mare Nostrum series in Europe last month.
After six weeks on the road, working with other members of the SA swimming team and national coach Graham Hill, Le Clos will compete at a small gala in Europe this weekend before heading to Miami, Florida, for the final leg of their build-up camp.
He confirmed they would fly into Rio a few days before the swimming programme was scheduled to get under way next month.
“I’m not taking anything for granted, and as long as I give it my best and swim as hard as I can in every race, I’ll take whatever I get,” he said.
“I’m excited to be taking part in another Olympics. I think it’s going to be spectacular.”
Le Clos was speaking to The Citizen in his capacity as a brand ambassador for Discovery