Dubai: Olympic swimming champion Chad Le Clos loves to inspire people and it is this virtue that makes him one of South Africa’s most loved sporting personalities.
Le Clos was among the last few swimmers to land at the Dubai International Airport in the early hours of Monday, a little more than 24 hours of the actual start of the competition for the opening round of the 2012 Fina/Arena Swimming World Cup.
So what exactly held back the 2012 London Olympics 200m butterfly gold medallist?
It was a certain 17-year-old named Melanie Olhaus.
The blonde Glenvista High School pupil bunked school to be at the OR Tambo International Airport in mid-August to welcome the South African team returning from the London Olympics.
In her hand she held a banner that read: “Chad, will you be my matric dance date?”
Le Clos, a huge hit in South Africa after beating his idol Michael Phelps by five-hundredths of a second in the 200m butterfly in London, accepted the offer and spent a better part of last weekend (September 29-30) attending the matric dance — a farewell ball for final year school students — and two after parties in Johannesburg.
South African newspapers reported that Le Clos carried his date out of the car and took a few steps with the teenager in his arms before setting her down to walk the red carpet leading to the Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg late on Saturday.
“I had not really got time to celebrate my medals in London and before landing in South Africa [on August 13] I told my teammates that I would go out to the prom with the first girl who asked me. I simply kept my promise,” Le Clos said.
Now with two medals so far — a gold in the 200m butterfly followed by a silver in the 50m butterfly — at the Dubai round of the Fina/Arena Swimming World Cup, Le Clos plans to go a step further in his inspiration to youngsters who were vocal in pushing him along during the races.
“It is awesome to come back here. It’s like coming back home,” the 20-year-old told Gulf News late on Tuesday.
“It is important that the youngsters come here and get the motivation to perform. For me, I represent hope for them. I was a young boy like them,” Le Clos said.
“Even [when] I was 14 and 15 and struggling to get along in the world of swimming. When I travelled to my first World Championships in 2009 in Rome, I did not have anyone that I could look up to. So I really know how these kids feel. It is easy for them to identify with me,” he added.
“I saw Michael [Phelps] and I wanted to be like him. And here I was beating Phelps [at the London Olympics]. I am happy that these youngsters are taking an interest and a liking to me. That’s good for them and for the sport as well.”