When Michael Phelps stepped onto the starting block in Lane 6 for the 200m butterfly final at London 2012 he had in his sights a 15th Olympic title and a third consecutive gold in the event. Standing next to him in Lane 5 was a 20-year-old South African by the name of Chad Le Clos, who had already fulfilled a dream by lining up alongside his idol in an Olympic final. Everything went according to plan for the mighty Phelps in the early stages of the race. Ahead at 50m and 100m, he had stretched his lead out to 0.38 seconds over Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda at the final turn, with Le Clos a further 0.2 seconds further back in third.
Le Clos clawed back some of the deficit but, with just five metres remaining, was still trailing the American. The South African takes up the story: “I remember touching the wall and not knowing what had happened. I knew I was very close to the gold, but I felt like Phelps had got it still. I just thought to myself: ‘You’re not racing anybody else. You’re racing the greatest finisher of all time’. I just remember those last two strokes when I put my head down: ‘I have to hit this perfectly. I have to hit this spot on’. I just remember how perfect it actually was. I remember just looking at the wall and I was like: ‘No way. Come on. I could never have won this race’.”