Chad Le Clos was not the biggest name going into the 200-meter butterfly event on Tuesday night in London. By the time the event was over, however, the South African star became the focus of the London Olympics.
This particular event was supposed to be the crowning achievement for Michael Phelps at the 2012 London Olympics. Just four years ago in Beijing, the American superstar set a world record by finishing the race in one minute, 52.03 seconds en route to winning a gold medal.
On this night, Le Clos was ready to take the mantle from the most decorated Olympian in history and someone the 20-year-old watched take over the sport of swimming eight years ago.
Listening to Le Clos speak after his shocking victory, you could hear how surprised he was and what this win meant to him.
From Associated Press (via Washington Post):
“[Phelps] has always been an inspiration to me and a role model,” Le Clos said. “I’ve watched all his races a million times and I’ve run the commentary over and now I guess I can watch my race.”
“I knew he finished strong and he used his last underwater to his advantage. It sounds crazy but I actually thought I was Michael on the last turn. I just felt like I can try to do something special. The last 25 meters actually came in slo-mo.”
It is the dream of every young athlete to compete against someone that he or she looks up to. The feeling of trying to conquer that hero is simultaneously joyous and heartbreaking, because you want to imagine your hero at their peak, but as a competitor, you just want to do whatever it takes to win.
Seeing Phelps carry the lead for almost the entire event before Le Clos made his late charge to earn the gold medal was not only one of the biggest upsets we will see at these Olympics, but will end up being a story that we look back on years from now as a turning point for the sport.
Phelps could have tied the all-time Olympic medal record in incredible fashion, with a gold medal in an event that he specializes. He could have been the story in London, just as he was in Beijing.
While Phelps will get attention for tying the record of 18 medals, it will always come with the caveat that he was upset by Le Clos in the event where he tied the record.
It was an incredible moment for Le Clos, and one that will not soon be forgotten by anyone who saw it.