RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Olympic champion Chad le Clos came through a smooth swim in the men's 200m freestyle heats on Sunday with a worried eye on his ailing parents.
"It's difficult, it's been hard," said the South African, the reigning Olympic 200m butterfly champion, whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer. "It's been an emotional week, you know. I got on the blocks and I heard my dad shout for me and that's important for me. I just want to do them proud, you know."
The swimmer's father Bert - his number one fan - was found to have prostate cancer while mother Geraldine is recovering from a double mastectomy, but both have made the trip to Brazil to cheer their famous son on.
Both parents are regularly seen in the crowd supporting their son, who has also won three world titles and collected seven gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
"My parents are good," said le Clos, asked about their progress. "They're both here and my brother and my sister are here too, so it's going to be pretty exciting."
The 24-year-old, who also won silver in the 100m butterfly at the 2012 London Olympics, clocked the third fastest time overall in the 200m free heats to qualify for the evening semi-finals.
"Oh I was happy," said le Clos. "It was hard but I wanted to go out hard, wanted to be in front and knew I had easy speed."
Le Clos finished second behind gold medal contender Sun Yang in his heat, going 1 min 45.89sec. The Chinese juggernaut clocked 1:45.75, three hundredths quicker than world record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany.
Le Clos already had his eye on running into Olympic legend Michael Phelps in Monday's 200m butterfly heats.
"I'm very excited," he said of coming up against the American, who he pipped to gold in London four years ago. "I've been waiting a long time for this - a very long time."
South Africa coach Graham Hill has praised the courage of le Clos, predicting his family heartache will spur him on in Rio.
"He's a tough boy, a brave boy," said Hill. "He's swimming for other reasons now and maybe that will help him."