SA sport on cusp of greatness
A SMILING boy was sitting next to his mother in a hotel in central London at 1am, a few hours after Chad le Clos had ripped the cloak of butterfly invincibility off Michael Phelps's broad shoulders.
"Are you Chad's brother?" the boy was asked.
"No . I am Jordan le Clos. Chad's my brother," he said.
Jordan is still 12 but he has the same desire and belief as his older sibling that Phelps referred to in his gracious post-race assessment. Now that a new era in world swimming has been ushered in by Cameron van der Burgh and Le Clos, the world order has changed. China has also joined that water revolution.
"We have a fantastic group of young talent, ready for 2016 Olympics," said Le Clos. "Even in (his coach) Graham Hill's squad. There's a huge future for South African swimming," he said.
The future can wait, though. The time is now and Van der Burgh and Le Clos have dulled painful memories of Beijing four years ago, where there was embarrassment. From the paltry medals return, the giggles over the team kit and the scandal over how much money was wasted on the country's hospitality centre, we hung our heads in shame.
Two young swimmers have changed the mood. In defeat, the greatest Olympian in history, Phelps - 19 medals and counting - was all class. He reminded everyone that there is more to sport than winning and losing.
"I'm handing over the torch to you, Chad. Congratulations, and live in the moment. It is really special for you. Take your time to soak it up," the American told the tearful 20-year-old South African as he guided him around the pool deck during the medal ceremony.
Phelps later said: "I've known Chad for about a year and I marked him down as one for the future. He had the perfect finish with that last stroke into the wall (Le Clos came from behind to win by 0.05 seconds in the most thrilling 200m butterfly final yet), although I wouldn't have done anything different with my execution. I lost to a great competitor. I knew he had the hunger, and that hunger will take him far."
Yesterday, the international media were falling over themselves to get to Le Clos and his father, Bert, who became a social network topic himself over an emotional TV interview he conducted after the race. BBC World, ESPN and CNN were among networks wanting their own interviews with him.
Both Van der Burgh - and let us not downplay the role he had in Le Clos's gold, for he provided the energy and gold medal momentum two nights earlier with his world record victory - and Le Clos are hugely marketable. They are humble, articulate, confident and have poster boy appeal. And they are trail blazers. Since returning to the Olympic fold in 1992, SA had not had had a gold medallist who lived and trained in SA.
Consensus was that you had to be based overseas to reap the benefits of more competitive training and exposure. Now, we suddenly have two local boytjies. One is a Bull and the other a Shark.
The great test for SA will come soon enough. Corporate SA and government have a duty to ensure they spread their financial generosity beyond the Big Three of soccer, rugby and cricket.
The power of sport unifying a country like SA can no longer be ignored. Just see what has happened in the last fortnight. And it is possible to maintain. If we are serious about bidding for an Olympics, possibly for 2024, Van der Burgh and Le Clos have shown what potential is out there. We can become a great Olympic nation.
And who knows, come 2024 there might even be another Le Clos who wins gold.
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