Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
4 Aug 2022
1:47 pm

OPINION: Chad le Clos — Could our greatest have been greater?

Wesley Botton

Le Clos is one of the best athletes the country has ever produced, and looking back on his storied career, the stats don't lie.

South Africa's Chad le Clos waves to the crowd in Birmingham. Picture: Roger Sedres/Gallo Images

Though he will always be a legend of South African sport, it’s difficult to shake away the thought that Chad le Clos could have done more.

Le Clos is one of the best athletes the country has ever produced, and looking back on his storied career, the stats don’t lie.

He is SA’s most decorated Olympian, as the only individual to have bagged four medals at the quadrennial Games. On top of this, he has pocketed seven medals at the World Aquatics Championships and 18 medals at the World Short-Course Championships.

And at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last week, he equalled the record for the most career medals at the showpiece by stepping on the podium for the 18th time — a mark which was bettered by Australian swimmer Emma McKeon, who bagged her 19th career medal in the pool on Tuesday.

So it might seem a little ridiculous to criticise a man who has achieved more than any of his compatriots who have come before. But in the case of Le Clos, it can be done.

After beating American icon Michael Phelps to win 200m butterfly gold at the 2012 London Olympics, as a teenager, Le Clos was tipped to dominate in the pool over the next couple of Olympic cycles.

And while he went on to secure two silver medals at the 2016 Rio Games, adding to the gold and silver he earned in London, it was hardly the haul we had expected from him based on the potential he showed four years earlier.

And by the time he got to the Tokyo Games last year, he was no longer able to put up a fight against his younger opponents.

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In addition, his antics in and out of the pool didn’t help promote his profile.

His desire to look across at his opponents during a race wasn’t always taken well, and we can’t forget the incident at Rio 2016 when he shadow-boxed Phelps in the call room before the 200m butterfly semifinals.

All that said, Le Clos has done enough to be our greatest, and we’ll have to admit it’s a little unfair to complain that he hasn’t been even greater.

But it really is hard to shake the thought.