Chad’s dad wows world

2012-08-02 00:00

THERE are two stars in the Le Clos household today — new Olympic gold medallist Chad and his ebullient and larger-than-life dad, Bert.

While his son was being feted in all corners of KwaZulu-Natal and the world yesterday, Bert became a social media and Internet sensation thanks to an emotional and often hilarious interview with the BBC’s Clare Balding on Tuesday night.

The interview — conducted minutes after Le Clos had beaten his hero, Michael Phelps, and published on The Witness website yesterday — went viral.

Some members of Bert’s newfound fan club were calling for him to be awarded a supporter’s medal for embodying the spirit of the Olympics.

The Guardian reported: “He may seem an unlikely candidate as the face of 2012 Olympic swimming, but Bert le Clos’s emotional response to his son’s 200 metres butterfly gold on Tuesday has made him one of the real stars of week one.”

The Daily Mail wrote: “He stole the nation’s heart as he kept repeating how ‘beautiful’ his son was and how it was ‘unbelievable’.

Speaking to The Witness ahead of Chad’s semi-final in the 100 metre individual medley last night, Bert struggled to hide his embarrassment when asked about his BBC interview.

“It was so overwhelming and I didn’t know it was live,” he said. “I didn’t know what to say and I just wanted to cry — I still can’t stop crying.”

Bert has put in the hard yards and has been accompanying Le Clos on his journey to the top since the butterfly ace was 12 years old.

But at no stage was there any pressure placed on Le Clos by either of his parents, Bert said.

“Let me tell you, if you’re going to put pressure on your kid to do something, he won’t succeed. It’s like the English say, you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.”

On his son’s victory, he said: “This was a moment that we all worked for. It is the most unbelievable thing.”

For the last eight years, Bert and his wife Geraldine have been a pillar of strength for Le Clos. From cooking meals meeting his dietary requirements to driving him to swimming practice at 4 am, the Le Clos parents have done it all.

“He [Bert] is a fantastic cook,” said Le Clos’s older sister, Bianca Matos (34). “Whenever Chad went away we would have a completely different menu. And when I had my first child, I had to take him to King’s Park swimming pool to meet his grandparents, because that was the only place we could ever find them.”

But Bert is modest when it comes to his cooking capabilities.

“I wouldn’t say I’m fantastic. I do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, the odd curry,” he said.

At 140 kg, Bert was quick to dispel rumours that he was once an accomplished pole-vaulter.

“That has stuck with me,” he laughed. “When Chad was young he did an interview and got confused and told the interviewer I was a pole-vaulter instead of a high jumper. It has never left me.”

He might not have been the greatest athlete, but Bert does have one claim to fame other than being the father of an Olympic gold medallist.

“When I was in U14 I played soccer in the same team as [current Bafana Bafana coach] Gordon Igesund,” Bert said. “He was the striker and I was the goalkeeper.”

Ryk Neethling, who won gold at the Athens Olympics and now manages Le Clos, said yesterday he always knew the former Westville Boys’ High pupil was special.

“Chad’s father, Bert, introduced him to me as a 12-year-old ‘little Ryk’ and we’ve had a special bond since then.”

Neethling said the family’s support for Le Clos had played a crucial role in his success.

“It couldn’t have happened to a nicer family. I don’t want to make it into a tearjerker, but his mother has had cancer and his father is his biggest fan, so it’s a nice story.”

Neethling acknowledged that six months ago he did not think that Le Clos could win gold. “I thought he was a bit too young, but when Cameron [van der Burgh] won, it gave Chad enormous self-confidence.”

Le Clos will have about four weeks off before starting to prepare for the 2016 games in Rio de Janiero. “He likes swimming, so we are going to let him keep doing it,” Neethling quipped.

Meanwhile, it was left to Oscar Pistorius to tell the world what Le Clos did with his medal on Tuesday night. Pistorius said he had met Le Clos in the lift at the athletes village yesterday morning. “He had his medal round his neck,” he said. “I asked him: ‘Where are you off to?’ and he said he was going to the dining room.

“I asked him if he was taking it with him and he said: ‘I haven’t taken it off yet! I slept with it on’.”

To view Bert le Clos's BBC interview click here.

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