Swimming sensation Chad le Clos, also a former FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker, is getting back to his best just a year out from the Olympic Games in Paris and feels he still has a lot to give.
South Africa’s prince of the pool Chad le Clos has, by his own admission, had a torrid few years in which his form dipped and personal issues began to take their toll.
He has not gone into great detail about his problems away from the pool, except to say both his parents facing respective battles with cancer, the Covid-19 pandemic and an unhealthy coaching environment all had a devastating effect on his mental health.
But there are signs that he is getting back to his best just a year out from the Olympic Games in Paris and he is now looking forward to a new beginning, rather than stewing on what has gone on in the past.
His gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly at the World Short Course Championships in Melbourne late last year came in a personal best time of 1:48.27.
He burst into tears following the win, which followed a poor showing at the Tokyo Olympic Games where he admitted his severe depression left him feeling “numb”.
“I’m very happy with everything that’s happened in the last six to eight months,” Le Clos tells FORBES AFRICA. “Since I’ve made a change to my new coach (Dirk Lange), and have based myself in Frankfurt, things have started to fall into place again, and I’ve got my head right.
“And, obviously, winning the 100m and 200m butterfly at the World Short Course Championships in Melbourne last year was a huge boost to my career, it was one of the most important moments of my life, not just my career.”
He says there were lessons learned from Tokyo and resulted in a change in his career path.
“I was in probably the best shape of my life but then not being able to swim for six months (due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and falling behind all my competitors was obviously tough,” he says.
“But there were lessons there, I think I just had to maybe not put so much pressure on individual things that have happened in my life. If I’d taken a step back, and not rushed my decision-making, it might have been a better avenue to go down.
“I made the best decisions I thought possible for myself, even though they probably weren’t right at the time. But, you know, things happen, and we learn from those mistakes.”
At the age of 31, Le Clos is in some ways the ‘old man of the pool’, with many of his competitors in their late teens or early 20s. But he feels he still has a lot to give.
“I’ve had a really hard three years and I don’t count the last four years of my career. I wish I knew what I know today, seven, eight years ago in terms of my training environments, I believe that my career would have would have been different for sure. But I’m looking forward,” he said.
Adding to his four Olympic medals (one gold and three silver) is a major goal in Paris next year and he believes it is certainly possible. He also hopes it will not be his last Olympics.
“In terms of my last chance to win a gold medal at the Olympics, I think it’s definitely more realistic for me to win next year than it wouldn’t be in Los Angeles (in 2028),” he said.
“I still feel very strong and did my best time (in Melbourne) at 31 years of age. Not many swimmers have done that.
“I think short course, for sure, I’ll still be very dominant for many, many years to come. And I’m not writing off the LA Olympic Games either.”
As for life after the pool when he finally hangs up his goggles?
“I haven’t exactly thought too much about the future. But I think I have a lot of really great people around me, a great team that will help me make those decisions,” he says. “We’ve raised a bit of money now and are helping a lot of local swimmers in the underprivileged communities, which is something I’ve been very passionate about.
“My dream would be to have an academy in Cape Town, but unfortunately, they don’t have the facilities. So if anyone is reading this…l know I can make it make it work!
“I’m very passionate about being in South Africa. So after the next Olympics, I think I will want to spend a bit more time back home.”