8 AUGUST 2016
Le Clos speeds to spectacular silver
By Gary Lemke
Chad le Clos gate crashed the party of the world’s men’s elite freestyle sprinters when he raced his way to a memorable silver in the 200m final to earn South Africa’s second Olympic medal of Rio 2016. ‘Not bad for a fly guy,’ he probably said to himself after breaking the South African and African record in the process.
Twenty four hours earlier Le Clos had qualified for the final of the 200m freestyle, but only after ’tying’ up in the last 10 metres, ultimately qualifying seventh fastest, but still earning a place at the top table of the men’s party.
Then, he’d catapulted off the blocks and into a commanding lead, only swallowed by a pack of challengers down the 50m home stretch in his semi-final. Afterwards, he asked, ‘what was my 50m split?’ When told ’23.91’, he replied, ‘Wow, that’s fast! That’s fast! I went out a bit too fast. I want to get out there, always go hard, against the best guys in the world.
‘I struggled a bit tonight, and when I turned at the 100, I didn’t know what to do, I’ve never been this far ahead, ever, my whole life. I like to race. In the last 10m I was hurting a bit, and I knew that, like this morning as well, I’d gone slightly too fast. I need to pace myself slightly better,’ he said.
Well, when it came to the final, Le Clos, whose odds had drifted from 6-1 to win gold to 25-1 in the wake of that semi-final, again left the blocks like a bullet from a barrel. He got to 50m in 23.39, a half second quicker than he had gone in the semi-final. ’I need to pace myself better,’ he had said better after that semi. Here he was going quicker.
Three of four SA boats pull through to semi-finals
Strong winds forced the cancellation of rowing action at the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas on Sunday but on Monday South Africa showed they’re a force to be reckoned with as three of the four boats in action breezed into their semi-finals.
The lightweight women’s double skulls, women’s pairs and men’s double skulls all went through directly and it was only the men’s fours who hit a hiccup, having to come back to Tuesday’s repechage for another crack at the semi-finals.
First up in action were the lightweight crew of Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler who led from start to finish and clocked a winning time of 7min 07.37 for the 2000-metre stretch. Already 3.41 sec clear of Ireland after 500m they extended their lead in every quarter to win by 10.91sec in the end.
Looking on was rowing coach Paul Jackson and, although he doesn’t actually coach this specific boat, he still liked what he saw. ‘There was a slight cross-wash which they handled well though. They just did what it took to get them through to the semi and I really liked their “togetherness.” Speaking afterwards, a calm and collected McCann said: ‘We just take each race as it comes, really just getting the race done and one race at a time. In this sport
you can’t get ahead of yourself.
‘Coach Roger [Barrow] has done a really good job of rigging the boat and we’re ready for any conditions. It’s challenging but we have trained for anything.’
How Team SA fared on Monday
Lightweight Women’s Double Sculls: Kirsten McCann and Ursula Grobler won their heat in 7min 07.37sec to progress straight to Wednesday’s semi-finals. In a nutshell: Better conditions for the rowers after Sunday’s debacle. McCann and Grobler went fast from the start, and quickly built a lead. They were nearly two boat lengths clear after 500m and kept their rhythm and stroke to be nearly four seconds ahead of Ireland at 1 000m. The gap maintained through to the finish. Job done.
Heat result: 1 South Africa 7:07.37, 2 Ireland 7:10.91, 3 Brazil 7.20.79 Fastest heat winners: Netherlands 6:57.27, China 7:00.13, Canada 7:03.51, South Africa 7:07.37
Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls: James Thompson and John Smith were impressive in winning their heat in 6:23.10 to progress straight to the semi-finals.
In a nutshell: Thompson and Smith, part of the Men’s Lightweight Four that won a historic gold at London 2012, were impressive and confirmed their status as medal candidates when beating the Britain’s Will Fletcher and Richard Chambers. The Brits, in lane four, started quicker and went through the 500 and 1 000m marks about three-quarters of a boat length ahead of the South Africans, in the outside lane five. But, from halfway Thompson and Smith poured on the pressure and
came alongside Britain with 500m to go before pulling clear to win in eye-catching style. A medal? You bet! GL
In a nutshell: Le Clos swam well within himself, controlling the race from lane for and won more comfortably than the time would suggest. Still, the 1:55.57 placed him third overall for the morning, with fierce rival Michael Phelps fifth fastest, swimming in a different heat. For a brief moment he was headed but always knew where he was in the race and allowed himself to look left and right again inside the final 30 metres just to make sure there were no dangers lurking. There weren’t. GL
Heat result: 1 Chad le Clos (RSA) 1:55.57, 2 Masato Sakai (Japan) 1:55.76, 3
Zheng Wen Quah (Sing) 1:56.01.
Men’s 200m Butterfly: Sebastien Rousseau finished eighth in his heat in 1:57.33 and failed to qualify for the semi-finals, placing 23rd overall.
In a nutshell: It has been a disappointing Olympics for the experienced Rousseau, who also failed to get past the heats in the 400m IM. He again was never in the race with a chance of getting out of the heats, getting to the 50m wall nicely enough in 26.02 but falling off the pace from there. The heat was won by bookies favourite Laszlo Cseh in 1:55.14. GL
Fastest qualifiers: 1 Tamas Kenderesi (Hun) 1:54.73, 2 Laszlo Cesh (Hun) 1:55.14, 3 Chad le Clos (RSA) 1:55.57, 4 Grant Irvine (Aus) 1:55.64, 5 Michael Phelps (USA) 1:55.73, 23 Sebastien Rousseau (RSA) 1:57.33
Men’s 200m Freestyle: Chad le Clos finished second in the final in a South African/African record 1:45.20 to win the silver medal.
In a nutshell: Olympic 2004 gold medallist Ryk Neethling had been confident all week that Le Clos had it in him to win a medal in a race dominated by freestyle specialists. Le Clos himself had that twinkle when he said, after qualifying for the final, that ‘he didn’t know what to do’ after reaching 100m in front in such elite company. He knew what he was doing. Swimming in lane one he blazed off the blocks, using all that speed and leading for the first 150m, going for glory in lane one. He was collared late by the favourite, China’s Yang Sun, but Le Clos had dug in to take a memorable silver. GL
How they finished: 1 Yang Sun (China) 1:44.65, 2 Chad le Clos (RSA) 1:45.20, 3 Conor Dwyer (USA) 1:45.23
Men’s 200m Butterfly: Chad le Clos finished third in his semi-final, timing 1:55.19, to qualify fourth fastest for the final.
Men’s Laser, Race 1 and Race 2: Stefano Marcia got his maiden Olympics voyage up and running at the Marina da Glória. In action over two races the youngster started off with 30th spot out of 45 boats. He then improved that to 25th out of 46. After the first day’s sailing he’s now 28th overall with a total of 55 points. At the front of the pack is Croatia’s Tonci Stipanovic with six points.
In a nutshell: Marcia was satisfied after a hard day’s sailing. Winds varied between 10-12 knots and conditions were rather choppy. It was his second racing regatta at the Rio venue. ‘There were some massive wind shifts out there today, like between 10-15 degrees. I was especially pleased with my second race and the race tracker even showed me first at one stage, by 11 metres. ME
What does Marcia say? ‘I’ll take these two race results on day one for sure. It’s going to be a very tough regatta.’
Five things to know about the 200m butterfly
- Chad le Clos is bidding to become the only swimmer to retain his Olympic title in this event. The other is Michael Phelps.
- Lazslo Cseh is the bookies’ favourite, at 12-10, followed by Phelps 17-10 and Le Clos 7-2. Cseh was silver medallist in 2008 and bidding to give Hungary its first gold in this event.
- Phelps is bidding to become the first swimmer to win a medal in this event in four successive Olympics.
- Cseh won the European title in May in 1:52.91, the fastest time since Phelps swam his world record of 1:51.51 in 2009.
- If Phelps won he’d be the oldest winner of an individual event. He will be 31 years and 40 days on the day of the final, 9 August.
What does Le Clos say? ‘I’m very excited, I’ve been waiting a very long time for this. Very, very excited.’