Olympics: Le Clos braced for one last duel with Phelps

Chad le Clos of South Africa competes in the men's 100m Butterfly heats of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Swimming events at Olympic Aquatics Stadium at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Aug 11, 2016.
Chad le Clos of South Africa competes in the men's 100m Butterfly heats of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Swimming events at Olympic Aquatics Stadium at the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Aug 11, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - South African Chad Le Clos has vowed to do all he can to take the fight to Michael Phelps one last time before the U.S. swimming great heads into retirement.

"I've got a clear head, I will respond," he told reporters after qualifying for the Olympic 100m butterfly semi-finals. "I've always said don't judge me when I'm running like a lion, judge me when my back's against the wall."

Phelps and Le Clos clashed last Tuesday in the men's 200m butterfly final, an event that Phelps lost to the South African in a stinging defeat in London four years ago but won back in style in Rio.

 
 

The American now has 21 Olympic gold medals and 25 in total.

Phelps has won the 100m butterfly for the last three Games, beating Le Clos to silver in 2012, but the South African has extra motivation this time.

"I need one more gold medal to become the best African athlete in the Olympics," he said. "I've got a gold and two silvers. I need one more gold to pass everyone else."

Casting his mind back to the 200m butterfly final, where he finished fourth, Le Clos said he was baffled by what happened.

"In my mind I was winning. With 10m to go I was winning. It was just like my body wasn't going and it was, like, what's going on here? It was the first time in my life it's ever been like that," he said. "To lose in a 54.0 (1min 54.06sec) is disgraceful from my side. I'm not the kind of guy that accepts defeat like this."

Friday's final could be the last individual race for the most successful Olympic athlete of all time, and the last duel with Le Clos providing both qualify.

Le Clos said he hoped Phelps, 31, might have a rethink, just as he did after retiring four years ago.

"If he can hang on for another year I would appreciate it so much," he said. "I'd love to race him again somewhere along the line in the 200 fly. "He is the greatest of all time... he has always been in many ways my idol."

The swimming world championships will be held next year in Budapest but Phelps has indicated clearly that Rio really is going to be his swansong.

"This is it. I'm swimming how I want to and this is a great way to finish," he told American broadcaster NBC.