Swimming prodigy on the rise

2011-11-19 00:00

AT the young age of 19, swimming sensation Chad Le Clos finds himself in the unique position of having achieved more at his age than many of his peers could ever dream of doing in a lifetime.

He could be forgiven for getting ahead of himself, but it is all yet to sink in for Le Clos, who seems reluctant to let fame and fortune deprive him of his youth. He speaks fondly of his football days and of a sport that was so close to his heart that swimming was seen purely as a leisure activity.

“I really enjoyed football when I was in primary school.

“I was very keen on the sport and thought I could pursue that when I left school.

“The team aspect of the sport appealed to me, a bunch of guys going out and enjoying themselves in competition, struggling for each other as brothers would. I played in the country districts first team up until I was 13,” he said with a hint of nostalgia.

He then sustained a groin injury which suddenly ended his heartfelt ambition to play football competitively.

“I have my moments where I really miss those days. I am still a keen follower of the game. Especially the English Premier League,” Le Clos explained.

He is a keen follower of England’s traditional top four — Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.

When he was not on the football pitch, he was in the pool, and up until the age of 13 he was swimming purely for enjoyment with no thoughts of pursuing the sport as more than a hobby.

He said, “I loved being in the water. Swimming is a complete change from football; in the pool the only person you have to rely on is yourself.”

Le Clos didn’t start out as the athlete that he is today and in fact, he jokes, he was far from it.

His break in swimming came when a family friend started planting the seed in the minds of the Le Clos family that he could achieve big things.

“I remember Greg Till’s discussions with my mom and dad. He is a close friend of the family and was, with my grandfather, a founding member of the engineering firm Bearing Man. I suppose if I didn’t make it in swimming I’d be working there,” he said.

Till’s advice was taken and when Le Clos was 14 the family went on their first international trip for him to compete in England.

When he returned he was hooked on the sport. He caught the eye of swimming coach Graham Hill, who has since said that Le Clos is one of the best athletes he has worked with.

“It seems like he has been participating at the highest level of the sport for years, yet he is only 19. He has a bright future ahead of him,” said Hill.

Le Clos, however, is less certain about his future, saying that at times it is all a bit overwhelming.

He said that he is still trying to find a balance in his life.

“I relax with my friends whenever I get a chance; most of the time it involves football.

“I also spend a lot of down time with my dad. We do a lot of social things together that other guys my age would do with their friends, like going to movies.

“But I wouldn’t have it any other way, I am really close to my dad,” said Le Clos.

A way that Le Clos does hold on to his youth is by keeping up with the latest trends in music and fashion.

In between laughs, he said that Hill might prefer him to listen to something else.

“We have spoken about motivational music that helps athletes achieve their goals, but I need to listen to current music, it keeps me young!” he joked.

The last two years have been a roller-coaster ride for Le Clos, who graduated from Westville Boys High only last year.

One of the moments in time that he said he will not forget was his first major tournament — the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

“I was really, really nervous. Getting off the plane in Delhi made me realise that this was the real deal, and at 18 it’s kind of hard to adjust to that easily. But I was slightly happy that I wasn’t in class.”

What he didn’t know was that his fellow students were glued to their screens watching him win his two gold medals in between classes.

“That was amazing. The support I received when I got back to school was really nice. But I had to get over it rather quickly because of finals.”

Le Clos’s 23 gold medals at this year’s Fina World Cup have taken his career to unimaginable heights.

“I look at all of these gold medals and am proud of what I have done, but then I think … what am I going to do with them?

“I am going to have to frame them,” he said with a smile.

What made his World Cup success all the more memorable was beating two of the swimmers he admired most growing up.

“If you had asked me at the beginning of the year if I would beat Michael Phelps and Ian Thorpe this year I would have laughed at you.

“I did beat them and I am still laughing.

“But I must stay focused and know that they will be different athletes come the Olympics,” he said.

Although quitely confident that he will have a good Olympic Games, Le Clos remains reserved about his future, saying that he does not know what to expect. As easy-going as he may be, Le Clos refuses to say if there is a better half in his life.

Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing that if there isn’t, he won’t have too many problems finding any takers.

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