4 August 2012
South Africa’s Chad le Clos added to his growing stature in the world of swimming at the London Olympic Games on Friday night when he won a silver medal in the 100 metres butterfly. Victory went to Michael Phelps.
The medal was South Africa’s fourth of the Olympics, following three gold medals, and lifted the team above New Zealand into 11th place on the medals table.
It was, le Clos admitted after the final, a race he had not expected to medal in before the Olympics. He said he had hoped to maybe bag a bronze in the 200m butterfly, but instead shocked himself, Phelps and the world by capturing gold.
South African record
A medal in the 100 metres was something he had not considered a possibility. Yet, he was the fastest man in the heats, setting a South African record of 51.54 seconds to better Lyndon Fern’s mark of 51.90, which he set at the World Championships in Melbourne in 2007.
In the semi-finals, le Clos was just fifth at the turn, but blazed home over the last 15 metres especially to take victory in 51.42, another national record.
Phelps, the legend le Clos had beaten in the American’s signature event, the 200m butterfly, set the fastest semi-finals time of 50.86, well clear of the 20-year-old South African’s mark.
On Friday night, le Clos and Phelps, as the fastest qualifiers swimming in lanes four and five, were surprisingly the back markers at the 50 metre mark. Phelps was in seventh place and le Clos in eighth and last.
The American star made a strong push off the wall to make up some ground. Le Clos, meanwhile, had plenty of work to do.
With about 20 metres to go, Phelps hit the front. Le Clos was once again making a late charge. It worked as he made up six places to touch the wall in second spot, tied with the Russian, Evgeny Korotyshkin.
‘It ain’t over till it’s over’
New York Yankees’ legend Yogi Berra coined the famous phrase “it ain’t over till it’s over”; it could be the saying that le Clos lives by, because his ability to make something happen at the end of a race is something special.
Phelps’ winning time was 51.21, while Le Clos and Korotyshkin finished in 51.44. It was Phelps’ third Olympic 100m butterfly title in succession.
Roland Schoeman, at the age of 32, contested the 50m freestyle final for the third time in a row, quite an achievement in the fastest event in the sport, and finished sixth. His final full stroke finished up just short of the wall and could have cost him a number of places.
Victory went to France’s Florent Manadou, the brother of former women’s 400m Olympic champion, Laure Manadou, in a fast time of 21.34 seconds. Cullen Jones claimed silver in 21.54 and defending champion Cesar Cielo bronze in 21.59. Schoeman clocked 21.80.
It didn’t go well for some other South African swimmers. Trudi Maree, in the 50m freestyle, Heerden Herman in the 1 500m freestyle, and the men’s 4x100m medley relay team were all eliminated in the first round of their events.
The country’s athletes made a poor start as the track and field competition opened on Friday.
Cornel Fredericks, a finalist in the 400m hurdles in Daegu, South Korea last year, suffered a hamstring problem in his first round heat and trundled home in seventh place in 52.29 seconds.
LJ van Zyl, the winner of the bronze medal in Daegu, was sixth in his heat in 50.31, continuing a disappointing season in which he has never found form.
There was good news in the long jump. Khotso Mokoena, winner of the silver medal in Beijing four years ago, qualified for the final in fifth place with a distance of 8.02 metres. The leading distance was 8.11m by the American Marquise Goodwin.
It has been far from an outstanding year for long jumping, with the year’s best distance belonging to Britain’s Greg Rutherford at 8.35m, six centimetres better than Mokoena’s best jump of the year. It is a competition waiting for someone to unleash “a big one”.
The South African, with a leap a little over eight metres, could be in the running for another Olympic medal.
Boxer Siphiwe Lusizi, competing in the welterweight class on Friday night, was beaten 18-13 by Venezuela’s Gabriel Maestre Perez in their round of 16 clash.
At the Riverbank Arena, the men’s hockey team took on Spain.
The Spaniards had made it to London only because the SA Sports Confederation & Olympic Committee (Sascoc) decided that qualifying as African champions was not enough for South Africa, and made them go through a further qualifying tournament, thus opening up a place for the European side.
In a tight contest, Spain, the 2008 Beijing Olympics silver medal winners, held on for a 3-2 victory, with a goal seven minutes from time by South Africa’s Lloyd Norris-Jones making for a tension-filled finish.
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