- South African swimmer Chad le Clos admits he is facing his most challenging opponents yet when he gets his Tokyo Olympics campaign under way.
- Le Clos, who has one gold and three silver Olympic medals, aims to swim his best in the competitive 100m and 200m butterfly.
- Speaking to Sport24, Le Clos says he'll be as competitive as ever, hoping to hunt down and challenge the favourites.
Star Olympic swimmer Chad le Clos believes and understands that this year's Tokyo Olympics will be his toughest challenge yet.
Despite stunning the world in 2012 by defeating American legend Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly in London, Le Clos will face swimming's new sensation's Kristof Milak of Hungary and American superstar Caeleb Dressel.
In 2019, Milak broke Michael Phelps's long-standing 200m butterfly world record at the World Swimming Championships with Le Clos finishing third.
Days later, Dressel then shattered Phelps's 10-year-old world record in the 100m butterfly, with Le Clos taking bronze again.
Since then, Milak and Dressel have been one step ahead of Le Clos, which sets up an interesting 100m and 200m butterfly in Tokyo this year.
Le Clos acknowledges he is the 'underdog' at this week's Olympics but is up for the challenge.
"I hope to have my best performance here; I do believe I can whether it's gold, silver, bronze or fourth. I can't speak for other people, but I believe I can do my best," Le Clos told Sport24.
"I'm up against the toughest competition of my life. I think I'm 150 to 1 as the underdog heading into the race, there's no real pressure from me on my side. I'm up for the challenge and I'm really excited to get out there and represent my country."
2012 London - GOLD in 200m butterfly
2012 London - SILVER in 200m freestyle
2016 Rio - SILVER in 200m freestyle
2016 Rio - SILVER in 100m butterfly
Le Clos will no longer take part in the 200m freestyle and finally get his Olympic campaign under way on Monday in the men's 200m butterfly heat at 12:30 (SA time).
Le Clos, who will be one of South Africa's flag bearers at the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, stated that his preparation hasn't been ideal due to lockdown restrictions in South Africa.
Earlier this year, Sport24 reported that Le Clos' training facility Kings Park Swimming Pool was closed throughout lockdown and subsequently could not host the SA Aquatics Championships in April.
It dampened several South Africans Olympic preparations, however, Le Clos went abroad and trained with three-time Olympic gold medallist Katinka Hosszu of Hungary.
"I can only control what I can control. I've ticked most of the boxes, I would've liked to tick all. I'm sure other countries who didn't have strict lockdowns would've," said Le Clos.
"I'm not thinking about the past, I've worked hard to be here. I know what I've done right and wrong, has it been perfect? Absolutely not. Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Do I believe I'll be the best version of myself? I do."
Appearing in his third Olympic Games, Le Clos promised to be competitive as he always has, stating that there is more to his "unbelievable" story.
"I'm going to be competitive in whatever I do. I'm going to be hunting down medals or whoever the champion is at the time. That's my mentality," said the 29-year-old.
"You just got to be relentless and be involved and fearless. I'm going to be fearless and attack it. I can't promise much as I'm up against a couple of swimmers that broke records, but that doesn't worry me. It'll be a huge challenge and part of my journey.
"But I believe there's a lot more in the Chad le Clos story to be told in terms of swimming and more gold medals on the way. But I'm in a good place, I'm relaxed."
It'll be an Olympic Games like no other, with fans barred from attending the opening ceremony or all events.
Le Clos admits it'll be strange, but he is delighted to be in Japan, hoping to make his country proud.
"It hasn't been easy, the fact that we're here and having the Games is a huge plus. It'll be interesting to see how it'll pan out without any fans, which will be strange," he said.
"We also have morning finals, which is a bit stranger so the whole day, I'll either be happy or dwell on what happened. But I'm really excited.
"When I look back, I started in 2009. That's 12 years of representing my country, it's amazing. There's a lot to be proud of and thankful for."
*Lynn Butler is in Tokyo covering the Olympics for Sport24.