SA’s golden boy keeps shining, and likely will for some time to come

2014-08-02 00:00

MATHEMATICS is not a strong point for any journalist. Not even the kind where letters are thrown in between the numbers. But a few of the wordsmiths in The Witness newsroom managed a couple of calculations this week.

Chad le Clos is 22 years old. He has achieved so much already, including gold medals at two Commonwealth Games and an Olympics.

At Rio 2016, Chad will be 24 at his second Olympics. If he swims competitively until the age of 32, which may be a little ambitious, he will finish his career having participated in four Olympics over a 12-year period. Throw in another Commonwealth Games in four years’ time and what Le Clos is on course to achieving is quite astounding.

At 22, he already has 12 Commonwealth (three gold, three silver, six bronze) medals to his name, just one behind the all-time record of Australia’s Michael Wenden (13). He also has two Olympic medals (one gold, one silver) after London 2012 where he rocked the socks off Michael Phelps.

The fairy-tale keeps getting more and more, well, unbelievable for Chad. It appears as though everything he touches turns to gold. Or silver. Or bronze. But there are three things that remain consistent in the midst of the Le Clos success story.

The first and most obvious is this knack he has of peaking late in races. With an ability to keep an eye on his competitors in the lanes alongside his, Le Clos almost supernaturally finds something extra from somewhere over the final few strokes. It has made for some agonisingly close finishes along the way, but he always come out on top in such instances.

The other two constants in Le Clos’s career up until now have been the unwavering support of his family and his own humble nature. His parents, Bert and Geraldine, and his sister Bianca have been entrenched in his success from the very beginning. They react to every medal as if it was his first. Or last. There is a sense that they still haven’t quite come to terms with how good their boy is. I doubt they ever will.

Le Clos’s own nature is what is most astounding. He displays a level-headedness and maturity not seen in most his age. I didn’t know him before he was SA’s blue-eyed boy, but from what I am told he hasn’t changed a bit.

In the world of celebrities — sports, Hollywood, music — there is a term known as the “birth of no”. The theory is that when fame and fortune first come a knocking, you are so happy to see them that you answer “Yes, yes, yes” to every request from press, fans and event organisers. But then, after a while of being in the spotlight, there is “the birth of no”. This moment arrives when the celebrity realises that he or she simply cannot agree to every request — that if you give people and inch they will take a yard.

Le Clos is extremely media friendly. He bends over backwards to accommodate everybody with a question to ask. He is the same with his fans. This is part of what makes him such a likeable character. He understands that he has an important role to play in the recognition of swimming as a major sport. He also understands his tag as one of the country’s most successful sports personalities, and he takes both of those responsibilities seriously.

That he has managed to get this far without the “birth of no” is testament to his own modest nature and the work that Bert and Geraldine have done in keeping him grounded. Here’s to more medals and more history.

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