Chad le Clos is no stranger to defying the impossible. Among his glittering accolades on the Olympic, World Championship, and Commonwealth Games stages, the South African swimmer counts a London Olympic gold medal won in the 200-meter butterfly against his hero and arguably the greatest ever swimmer, Michael Phelps.
“When I was a kid growing up Phelps was my hero. He was the impossible task. He was the mountain. He was my seven-hour barrier,” he says, referring to his interest in the Pho3nix Foundation’s audacious Sub7 Sub8 Project, which will see two men and two women attempt to Defy The Impossible and break seven and eight hours respectively for the famed Iron distance triathlon.
For him, it wasn’t the long hours of training that made the ultimate difference. What gave him the edge was pure belief. “I always visualised myself next to Phelps, coming over the top of him, that’s just something I continuously did and I think when the moment comes, when you’ve seen it so many times in your mind, it eventually happens.”
Focusing on the things he could control allowed him to silence the doubt. “You get to a place where you’re working so hard, you train so many hours. You’ve got to just take it slightly past that, whatever that means to you. It’s different for everybody. For me it’s practicing and improving my core, improving the smaller details, doing those small sacrifices for little extra percentages.”
Just as Alistair Brownlee, Kristian Blummenfelt, Lucy Charles-Barclay and Nicola Spirig will do in the lead up to Sub7 Sub8, le Clos’s focus on the one-percenters gave him the belief, a process he refers to as tricking his mind into believing he could do it. Knowing that he had done all he could allowed him to come out swinging. “My philosophy has always been: there’s no excuses. At the end of the day no one will care about that.”
He recalls his Rio 2016 Olympic performance in the 200-meter butterfly, where not only did he lose against Phelps but failed to secure a medal. “My parents had cancer, I had problems outside of the pool — but no one’s going to remember that. At the end of the day when history books are written, Phelps won, Japanese boy 2nd, Hungarian boy 3rd, Chad le Clos 4th; the former FINA champion. That’s a fact of life… at the end of the day you’ve just got to prepare the best that you can.
He shares some advice for the Sub7 Sub8 challengers. “Don’t think about the shots you might miss; you haven’t taken them yet. I don’t know what the quote is but it’s the same kind of thing. Don’t think about going over the time. Just think about the positives and then it will happen. Don’t let the moment overwhelm you.”
For an athlete with a mindset like his, there is no impossible. This is evident in the way he speaks about the prospect of athletes trying to go under 7 and 8 hours over the iron distance. “I think just to attempt that is fantastic. For everyone who’s attempting that, it’s honorable. To break that record would be phenomenal. I’ve never done an ironman. That’s just absolutely crazy what they’re attempting and I take my hat off to them for doing that. I really hope you guys can do it and I’ll be supporting.”