Chad kicks off defence of his title

CUSP OF GREATNESS: South Africa’s Chad Le Clos begins the defence of his Olympic 200m butterfly title when he competes in the heats today. Picture: EPA
CUSP OF GREATNESS: South Africa’s Chad Le Clos begins the defence of his Olympic 200m butterfly title when he competes in the heats today. Picture: EPA

Le Clos can be ‘one of the greats’ in butterfly

Ever since Chad Le Clos toppled Michael Phelps as the Olympic 200m butterfly king four years ago, he has wanted to achieve the mantle of greatness too. Today he embarks on realising that dream, when he bids to defend the title he won as a young upstart at London 2012.

Le Clos will compete in the heats this afternoon (6.39pm SA time) with the semifinals scheduled for late in the night (3.16am tomorrow SA time).

Only one man has successfully defended his Olympic crown in this event, and that was Phelps, the American legend and the most prolific medallist in Olympic history, who returned to the pool after a two-year retirement following the last Games.

In that time, Le Clos usurped Phelps’s 100m and 200m butterfly titles at the 2013 world championships, and the following year he was without peer in the ‘fly at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

But last year, veteran Hungarian Laszlo Cseh stunned Le Clos to take the 200m butterfly title.

The South African kept his 100m title, but in the US at the same time, Phelps competed in a small gala and clocked the year’s fastest times in both races.

This year Cseh has thrown down the gauntlet with the year’s fastest times in both races, and his 1min 52.91sec in the 200m butterfly is the quickest since 2009.

And don’t ignore the two highly ranked Japanese swimmers, Daiya Seto and Masato Sakai, who are part of their country’s programme to produce champions at the Tokyo Games in 2020.

Le Clos faces a horde of challengers, in what could be the most competitive men’s swimming event of the Games.

And Le Clos will have to go faster than he’s ever been before – his personal best remains his golden 1:52.96 from four years ago – to realise his goal of being a great butterfly swimmer.

He has spoken about world records in the past, and although he has achieved that over short-course 25m lengths, he’s never done it in an Olympic-sized 50m pool.

In early cycling action yesterday, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio ended 10th in a dramatic women’s road race won by Holland’s Anna van der Breggen in a four-way sprint after her compatriot, Annamiek van Vleuten, leading at the time, had crashed out grotesquely.

The rowing programme was cancelled because of strong winds that blasted dark clouds over the lagoon and the Copacabana beach.

The rowers on Saturday struggled on water that was made choppy by a wind that felt like a gentle breeze for those on the land, yesterday was a hurricane by comparison.

Before the cancellation, the SA coaches were attaching splash decks to the front of the four boats that would have been in action.

After the cancellation, the SA rowers were working off their anticipation on ergo machines.

“Us rowers are used to lactic acid, it turns us on,” Paul Jackson, the coach of the men’s four who mentored the lightweight four to gold at London 2012, said.

The men’s and women’s lightweight double sculls and women’s pair will also race in rescheduled heats, probably today.

The Rio wind will almost certainly play a role in the end game, when the finals come round later in the Games.

It’s impossible to say which crews might benefit in Rio, but Lawrence Brittain and Shaun Keeling, the men’s pair and the only South African crew in action on Saturday, made it clear they were not used to the rough conditions.

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