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After starring at the London Olympics, Chad le Clos is using such events as the Fina World Cup at Dubai to prepare for the World Championships at Istanbul in December.
After starring at the London Olympics, Chad le Clos is using such events as the Fina World Cup at Dubai to prepare for the World Championships at Istanbul in December.

Fame is water off Olympian Chad Le Clos' back

The South African might seem like the new kid on the block to many, but his is anything but an overnight success story. This is his fourth visit to Dubai, and he went to the London Olympics already as World Champion, says Ali Khaled.

It is a full-time job being an Olympic sensation. The autograph hunters. Photographs with attractive young women.

A media darling.

And that is just the South African hero Chad le Clos's father.

Minutes after watching his son beat Michael Phelps at the London Olympics, an ecstatic Bert le Clos was interviewed by the BBC.

His emotional, ecstatic reaction went viral and won him the hearts of every South African, and millions more around the world,

"He's the most down-to-earth, beautiful boy you'll ever meet in your life," the beaming father said.

Few of the fans present at the Fina World Swimming Championships in Dubai this week would argue with that. For father and son, life has not been the same since that glorious day in London. And both seem to be having the time of their lives.

"I've always had a decent fan base in Dubai because there's lots of South Africans here," Le Clos said.

"Last night I think I had more support than anyone else, and the more people support me the faster I'm going to swim. I can't disappoint them."

And he certainly did not disappoint, staying behind for 25 minutes on the first day, signing autographs and smiling for the cameras - something his father had been doing all day.

Le Clos might seem like the new kid on the block to many, but his is anything but an overnight success story. This was his fourth visit to Dubai, and he went to the London Olympics already as world champion, having won six golds from six events at the Fina Swimming World Cup at the Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex last year. After the first day, this year's haul stood at a comparatively modest gold and silver in the 200m and 50m butterfly events, respectively.

"Last year I won six but I was in better form then," he said.

"I took five weeks off after London and for now I'm almost training through this, only been back for two weeks."

And while he concedes to using these races as stepping stones towards reaching peak form again, there was no holding back once he was in the water. Retaining his world title remains the ultimate goal.

"I can keep gradually improving, and then try and nail it at the end of the year," he said, referring to December's World Championships in Istanbul.

"The main goal is to go to Turkey and defend the title that I won here last year."

Inevitably, conversation turned to his career-defining moment.

On July 31, 2012, Le Clos edged out his childhood idol Phelps by 0.05 seconds in London to win the 200m butterfly Olympic gold.

Three days later he took the silver medal in the 100m butterfly, this time finishing behind the American legend.

Not surprisingly, he struggles to find words to describe his finest moment.

"There's no way to really describe it," he said. "You dream about one thing since you're a boy, about beating your idol, but you don't think it'll ever happen. It's important to dream big and I was lucky to get the opportunity to race."

Having won so much already, is there a danger that Le Clos, 20, will run out of targets, leaving him perhaps to chase world records?

The suggestion is dismissed with another smile.

"No, no, medals are way more important," he said.

"An Olympic medal is much better than a world record, and so is a world championship or Commonwealth Games medal."

The records, he believes, will take care of themselves if he keeps improving and, of course, winning.

After all, "they're only someone's personal best".

He notes that in winning the Olympic gold he managed to shave off two seconds from last year's personal best.

"Maybe next year I can come down another second, and in 2014 at the Commonwealth Games, we can look at the world records," he said.

Before that comes the little matter of winning the World Championship, and another trip to Dubai next year.

"I've said it many times, Dubai is my lucky hunting ground, out of 10 races I've won nine," he said, lamenting that one silver.

"Next year, hopefully I can keep the winning streak going, no more silvers."

He would later go on to win gold in the 100m butterfly last night. And he has a message to his fans, and all aspiring swimmers in the UAE.

Having experienced swimming pools around the world, he believes the Dubai's underused venue is up there with the best.

"Way better than London," he said.

"Without a shadow of a doubt," his father chimes in.

"Dubai has one of the best facilities in the world," Chad Le Clos said. "If we had this in South Africa we'll have a million more swimmers. It's unbelievable."

One last smile.

"You guys should use it a lot more."

akhaled@thenational.ae

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