He’ll never reveal what happened, but chad le clos went through such a harrowing experience early last year that it left him in an extremely dark place. it was a place where even the joy of swimming, and winning, couldn’t come, and eventually he had to seek help to get back on his feet and back into the pool.
It’s been a tough few years overall for the 30-year-old swimmer who, at 21, had reached the pinnacle of his sport. He had won Olympic gold by beating the greatest of all time, Michael Phelps. A few days later, he had added a silver medal to his haul at London 2012. He was at the top of the sporting world and with his charming smile and doting manner, Le Clos was being hailed as South Africa’s golden boy. /p >
he loved it. the kind of swimmer who thrives in the spotlight, the adulation propelled him to two more Olympic silvers four years later, four world titles in the long course pool (50m) and 10 in the short course (25m). .
- Tatjana Schoenmaker shines in the limelight
but with the mental stress he was under last year, that bubble burst. Le Clos left the Tokyo Olympics empty-handed. he finished fifth in the 200m butterfly final and didn’t even make it out of heats in the 100m butterfly. In her place, Tatjana Schoenmaker was hailed as the Olympic heroine by winning gold and silver in the 200 and 100 meter breaststroke respectively.
Reading: Chad le clos interview
“It was hard. It wasn’t necessarily that they were talking about tatjana because he was happy for her. it was more me. deep down we knew we couldn’t win. the preparation, the mental stress that she had… people thought she was playing or lying, ”she tells him clos.
“I couldn’t believe I didn’t make it to the final. he was devastated, he almost cried after that race. I felt like I let everyone down because we had worked so hard for that.”
a shell of his former self
His close-knit family is devoted to him, he says, and he would never be disappointed. But several of Le Clos’ sponsors, vital in a sport without government or federation funding, scaled back their support for him after the Games. however, it was not the money that concerned him. “It’s hard because you lose everything, you lose your way.”
“tatjana became a superstar, and rightfully so, i’m not upset about that at all, and matthew [sates] won the world cup and i’m over the moon for them. It’s not about them at all, it’s about me and who I am as a person and not having that and being so low after that.”
before the olympics, le clos thought he could get over the mental turmoil of what had happened in january. “It’s something I’ll never talk about because no one else should know about it. but it was something so deep, it was worse than my parents having cancer and this was worse for them.
“It really hurt me deeply, but I didn’t know it affected me. sometimes you don’t know that you are swimming with that weight on your shoulders. I wasn’t myself I was so insecure about myself. I lost all my confidence last year.”
le clos’s father, bert, encouraged him to talk to a sports psychologist after it happened, but he refused. “I’ve always prided myself on being a stubborn guy, I’m the man, but I needed someone last year.
“There are only about five people in the world that know, but it was really deep. I didn’t want to talk about it because I thought it would affect me – it was too close to the Olympics. I thought I’m just going to power through this and I’ll be ok. You’re training well and then you get to a meet and all those wobbles get to you.”
It was only after the Olympics that Le Clos sought out the help he needed. he went through intense eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy to get over his traumatic experience. “I only started talking to someone after the Olympics, the biggest mistake of my life, and I started correcting myself again. I was in a dark place, even after the Olympics. I was super depressed.
“There were times when I was sitting in my room crying alone. he didn’t know why he was like this. It was genuinely not about the Olympics. it was about my future and me… I felt like I had fallen a long way from where I was in terms of who I was as a person. It wasn’t really about swimming.
“I did deep therapy last year. I’m fine to talk about it now because I’m actually good. I am 100% fine now compared to last year. Last year I couldn’t talk about anything because I was just a shell of myself.”
on the rise
le clos is now well on the way to recovery and it shows in the pool. At the recent SA Swimming Championships in Gqeberha, he swam World Championship and Commonwealth Games qualifying times in the 100m and 200m butterfly, and claimed the national title in the 50m butterfly.
“The main thing is that I’m fine, everyone is fine, I’m back. I’m doing the right things… I still think I have a lot of fight left. I’ve had a great run, but I don’t think it’s over by any means.”
Your main goal now is to become the most decorated athlete in the history of the commonwealth games. To overtake the current record holder, Australian shooter Phillip Adams, who has 18 medals, Le Clos needs to win two more.
- Elite athletes struggle with mental health
“That’s a big goal of mine. I’m focusing a lot on that. we have the world champions before, which is obviously going to be very important, but the associations are definitely my main focus for this year,” she said. “Hopefully we can get through a couple of relays and pick up some medals there, but I hope to break that record in July.”
There’s also the Paris Olympics in 2024. Returning to his self-confidence, the swimmer is quick to state, “I know I’m going to win medals in two years, I promise.” so I’m not worried about the future.”