GUTSY Chad le Clos won a hard-fought Olympic silver on Monday night, bagging Team South Africa’s second medal of the Rio Games.
And on Tuesday night he could become SA’s most decorated Olympic athlete of all time if he makes the podium again in the 200m butterfly, the event he won at the 2012 showpiece.
Le Clos, with a gold and silver from London four years ago, now has three Olympic gongs, the fifth South African to do so.
The others are swimmers Roland Schoeman and Penny Heyns, and two old-timers from 1920, runner Bevil Rudd and tennis player Charles Winslow.
Racing in lane one, Le Clos broke Jean Basson’s seven-year-old African record as he clocked 1min 45.20sec behind China’s controversial Sun Yang in 1:44.65.
He was a mere three-hundredths of a second faster than third-placed Conor Dwyer of the US.
Le Clos had gone out strong in the heats and semifinal, but seemed to tire on both occasions.
It turned out he was just playing possum.
Coach Graham Hill said they wanted an outside lane for the final so he could try shoot away unnoticed. “It nearly worked,” he added.
Le Clos went out even faster in the final, clocking an incredible 23.39 on the opening lap, nearly a second inside the world record pace for the 200m freestyle.
It was also faster than the 50m freestyle world record as it stood in early 1980.
This time Le Clos held on to the lead going into the final lap, being overhauled only by Yang.
Some 56 minutes later Le Clos posted the fourth-best time in the 200m butterfly semifinals, and two physiotherapists worked on him to get him ready for the semifinal.
Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary won that semifinal in 1min 53.96sec ahead of Michael Phelps (1:54.12)
and Le Clos (1:55.19), while world champion Laszlo Cseh won the other in 1:55.18.
The final on Tuesday night is set for 3.28am on Wednesday.