Gold Coast (Australia) (AFP)
The 25-year-old shot to fame after taking down the American swimming legend at the 2012 Olympics, and proved over the past week on the Gold Coast that he will be a force to be reckoned with at the Tokyo Games in 2020.
Le Clos became the first male swimmer to win three consecutive Commonwealth gold medals in the same event when he romped to victory in the 200 metres butterfly, and followed that with silver in the 100m freestyle.
He also completed a first Commonwealth butterfly treble, finishing the week as the most decorated swimmer in Games history.
In a moment of exuberance after his crushing triumph in the 200m fly, le Clos whooped: “No one’s done the triple before so — Michael Phelps of Commonwealth!”
Never the shrinking violet in a sport full of uber-serious athletes, le Clos nonetheless chose his words carefully after claiming 4x100m medley relay bronze on the final night.
“I was joking when I said that,” said the pin-up, who competed in seven Commonwealth Games events. “Michael is a legend, he’s the greatest of all time. I want to be my own self and just be the best I can be.”
“I’ve always prided myself on racing the best,” added le Clos, who tied for silver behind Scotland’s Duncan Scott in the 100m freestyle with Australia’s Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers.
“My two best races were the 100m and tonight’s relay. I got to race the world’s best in 100m free and I didn’t win, I was disappointed. But I’m proud to step up against the world’s best.”
– Big in Japan –
With Phelps gone after one last hurrah at the 2016 Rio Games, the stage is set for le Clos to shine at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, although he faces a serious threat from American Caeleb Dressel.
“We’ll see what happens at the Olympic Games,” said le Clos, whose fingertip defeat of Phelps in the 200m butterfly at the 2012 London Olympics remains one of the sport’s greatest upsets.
“There’s a lot of youngsters coming through like Dressel, obviously the Aussies in the freestyle, Duncan Scott, James Guy,” he added.
“They’re a lot younger than me now. I feel like I’m one of the older guys already but I’m always ready for a good knock, so I’m excited.”
Le Clos credited fellow South African Cameron van der Burgh for helping to keep his competitive fires burning after the latter marked his final Commonwealth Games by stunning world record-holder Adam Peaty in the 50m breaststroke.
“We have to say props after that, I still can’t get over it,” said le Clos.
“He came up against the best breaststroker the world’s ever had and beat him — if that’s not inspiration I don’t know what is.”