Le Clos can't wait to face Schooling, Dressel at 2020 Olympics
South African motivated by prospect of facing Schooling and Dressel in Tokyo
Tears streamed down Chad le Clos' cheeks as he stood on the podium at the Fina World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, in July, with the men's 200-metre butterfly gold medal around his neck.
It was not the first time that the expressive South African swimmer had won that event on that stage, but the victory was one of the most significant of his swimming career.
"It was hugely important for me to win (the 200m fly) this year because of the difficult year I had in and out of the pool last year," he told The Straits Times in a recent e-mail interview.
Le Clos won the 200m fly at the London Olympics in 2012 and was relishing the prospect of a duel with American great Michael Phelps in Rio last year.
But the former Youth Olympian's preparations were disrupted when he learnt before the Games that both his parents had been stricken by cancer.
His mother Geraldine's breast cancer had relapsed after being in remission since 2010, while his father Bert developed prostate cancer.
Le Clos finished fourth in the 200m fly in 1min 54.06sec, while Phelps took the gold in 1:53.36.
The South African later shared the silver in the men's 100m fly with Phelps and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, after they all clocked 51.14sec in the final, which Joseph Schooling won in 50.39 to bag Singapore's first Olympic gold.
Le Clos said: "I never made excuses after I lost last year. I pride myself on racing the best and sometimes when it doesn't go your way, you still have to deal with it like a champion.
"The most important thing is that my family is healthy and my parents are in a good place health-wise."
With his family matters sorted out, le Clos worked tirelessly towards redemption at this year's World Championships, with the aim of regaining the bragging rights in his pet event.
He succeeded, taking the gold in 1:53.33, while home favourite Cseh finished second in 1:53.72 and Japan's Daiya Seto (1:54.21) clinched bronze.
Le Clos said: "I was obsessed with winning the 200m fly (in Budapest), maybe even too much, but, in the end, I was able to get my hand to the wall first.
"I would say it is one of my biggest victories of all time."
RISE OF DRESSEL
In Hungary, the 25-year-old also saw the rise of American Caeleb Dressel, who stormed to the 100m fly gold in 49.86sec - just shy of Phelps' world record of 49.82sec.
Schooling shared the 100m fly bronze with Briton James Guy, on 50.83sec.
On Dressel, le Clos said: "It's natural for new young swimmers to come through but, of course, a lot of people were surprised by how well he swam.
"It was one of the most impressive feats in World Championships history. I can't wait to race him in 2019 (World Championships) and 2020 (Olympics).
"I believe both (Dressel and Schooling) will be huge favourites come the Summer Games in 2020. I love racing the best of the best, which they both are."
Le Clos has carried his Budapest form into the eight-leg World Cup series and leads the men's overall standings with 312 points over five legs.
He will be the first male swimmer to win four overall series titles if he holds on to his lead in the final cluster of World Cups this year.
Russia's Kirill Prigoda (201) and Vladimir Morozov (189) complete the list of the top three male swimmers.
The swimmers will be back in action today and tomorrow in the Beijing leg, followed by Japan (Nov 14-15) and end the season at the OCBC Aquatic Centre next weekend (Nov 18-19).
Tickets for the Fina Swimming World Cup Singapore are available at www.sportshubtix.com.sg.