|Golden Touch: Le Clos and Phelps after Tuesday night|
A WEEK ago, the very suggestion that South Africa would grind to a halt on a Friday night to watch two men butterflying twice up and down a swimming pool would have been laughed out of Soccer City.
Then along came Chad le Clos and his dad Bert.
When the Baltimore Bullet takes on the Durban Dynamo at London’s sparkling new Aquatics Arena tonight at 8.38pm in a rematch dubbed The Man With The Golden Touch II, the Rainbow Nation will stop to see if Kwaaaaa-Zulu’s 20-year-old can edge out the 28-year-old superstar once more.
I’ll be at the Parlotones “This Is My Story” concert at Monte Casino when the 100m butterfly final gets underway. I have just sent them a polite request to stop the music and put South Africa’s fourth medal of London 2012 live on the big screens during the concert.
Will they PUSH ME TO THE FLOOR? I think not. That would be a GIGANTIC MISTAKE. Bert will be saying BABY BE MINE.
On Tuesday night the Parlotones did exactly that at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, as ex-pat South Africans gathered to hear their favourite band – and paused briefly to see Le Clos produce a remarkable last-gasp win over the world’s greatest Olympian.
Tonight they’re at it again, this time over two lengths rather than four. And my, how international perceptions have changed since the 200m butterfly final. Phelps has gone on to break the Olympic records of most medals won and most golds garnered.
And with a little help from his dad, Chad has become a global brand. When he beat Phelps to the final touch in the 200m, the commentators were harping on about the great man’s “rookie mistake” and “controversial defeat”.
At the 100m semi-finals last night, with the two golden heroes in separate races, the commentators whispered: “I wonder if Phelps will hear the foot-steps of Le Clos in the final stretch tomorrow night,” and they lauded the performance of South Africa’s swimmers, pointing out that, like France, the men from the tip of the dark continent had altered swimming’s balance of power for good.
And of course, everyone was asking: Where’s Bert. That’s Chad’s dad, the bearded beauty whose post-gold chat with the BBC’s Clare Balding has become he talking point of the games. Bert hailed his son as “beautiful” four times, he used the word “unbelievable” six times and generally restored the world’s faith in father-son relationships.
Bert will be there tonight. The cameras will no doubt capture his antics in the stands as Chad goes for a second win and a record fourth gold for South Africa – with the athletics events barely underway in Stratford.
Phelps, who has seen off a tiring Ryan Lochte as the male star in a world-record studded week of action in the pool, has been highly complimentary of Le Clos since his uncharacteristic defeat on Tuesday, tweeting: “What a performance from the South African. I’ve got to know him over the past year at a few photo shoots, he’s a hard-working, talented lad.”
And Le Clos has told us about his hero-worshipping of Phelps, whom he first saw winning at Athens, aged 12: “You have no idea what this means to me. Beating my idol. I can’t believe it.” After last night's semi, he said: "It's brilliant to be racing Phelps again, but I've already shaved half a second off my best time, I don't know if I can do any more."
Strangely, while Le Clos was forced to pull out of the 200m individual medley final to focus on the 100m butterfly and Lochte has over-stretched himself on all fronts, Phelps manages to look stronger as the week goes on.
With 20 medals behind him, Phelps goes in to tonight’s race slightly quicker than Le Clos. In the 200m butterfly on Tuesday, he started the final with a slightly slower qualifying time. I think Phelps has a tiny edge going in to tonight’s 100m final… but that’s what the bookmakers thought last time.
Tonight is about revenge for Phelps. Or another sensational upset from Le Clos. Either way, swimming and London 2012 will win.
And whatever happens, South Africa will have their fourth medal.
And then, of course, we’re in to the athletics. Flag-bearer Caster Semenya in the 800m, Sunette Viljoen’s world-beating javelin, long-jumper Khotso Mokoena looking to repeat South Africa’s only medal (silver) in Beijing and, South Africa’s best shot, the 4x400m relay where Oscar Pistorius, the legless Bladerunner, may run a lap.
And don’t foget Richard Murray in the triathlon on Tuesday, Siphiso Nhlapo on BMX next Friday and Burry Stander in the mountain biking on Sunday, the last day of the Olympics.
Successful Olympic teams tend to feed off each other’s success. Why should South Africa not do the same and take us to the SASCOC promised land of a record 12 medals?