Tears streamed down Chad le Clos' cheeks as he stood on the top step of the podium in Budapest in July, world champion in the 200m butterfly again. It was the expressive South African swimmer's fourth Fina World Championships gold medal - but also one of the most significant of his swimming career.
"It was hugely important for me to win (the 200m fly) this year because of the difficult year I had in and out of the pool last year," the 25-year-old told The Straits Times in a recent e-mail interview.
Le Clos won the 200m fly at the London Olympics in 2012 and was relishing the prospect of a duel with American great Michael Phelps in Rio de Janeiro last year.
But the former Youth Olympian's preparations were disrupted when he learnt before the Games that his parents were stricken with cancer. His mother Geraldine's breast cancer had returned after being in remission since 2010, while his father Bert developed prostate cancer.
Le Clos finished fourth in the 200m fly in 1min 54.06sec, while Phelps took gold in 1:53.36. The South African later shared the silver in the 100m fly with Phelps and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh, after they clocked 51.14sec in the final as Joseph Schooling won Singapore's first Olympic gold in 50.39sec.
Le Clos said: "I never made excuses after I lost last year. I pride myself on racing the best and sometimes when it doesn't go your way, you have to deal with it like a champion. The most important thing is my family is healthy."
With his family matters sorted out, Le Clos worked tirelessly towards redemption at this year's World Championships in Budapest, with the aim of regaining bragging rights in his pet event.
ONE OF MY BEST RESULTS
I was obsessed with winning the 200m fly (in Budapest), maybe even too much, but in the end I was able to get my hand to the wall first. I would say it is one of my biggest victories of all time.
CHAD LE CLOS, on what winning gold in his pet event earlier this year meant to him.
He succeeded, taking gold in 1:53.33, while home favourite Cseh finished second in 1:53.72. Japan's Daiya Seto (1:54.21) took bronze.
Le Clos said: "I was obsessed with winning the 200m fly (in Budapest), maybe even too much, but in the end I was able to get my hand to the wall first. I would say it is one of my biggest victories of all time."
In Hungary, he also saw the rise of American Caeleb Dressel, who stormed to the 100m fly gold in 49.86sec - just shy of Phelps' world record of 49.82sec. Schooling shared the 100m fly bronze with Briton James Guy, on 50.83sec.
On Dressel, le Clos said: "It's natural for new young swimmers to come through, but of course a lot of people were surprised by how well he swam. It was one of the most impressive feats ever in World Championships history. I can't wait to race him in 2019 (World Championships) and 2020 (Olympics).
"I believe both (Dressel and Schooling) will be huge favourites come the Summer Games in 2020. I love racing the best of the best, which they both are."
Le Clos has carried his Budapest form into the eight-leg World Cup series, leading the men's overall standings with 312 points over five legs. Russia's Kirill Prigoda (201) and Vladimir Morozov (189) make up the top three so far.
The swimmers will be back in action today and tomorrow in the Beijing leg, followed by Japan (Nov 14-15) before ending the season at the OCBC Aquatic Centre in Singapore the next weekend.
Le Clos will be the first male swimmer to win four overall series titles if he manages to hold on to his lead in the final cluster of World Cups this year. On the prospect of creating history, he said: "If I win, I would be very proud, but won't get carried away with the success."
•Tickets for the Fina Swimming World Cup Singapore are now available at sportshubtix.com.sg
FINA WORLD CUP BEIJING
Singtel TV Ch110, 7pm