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'I lost an important Olympic moment,' says Chad le Clos

Yes, Chad le Clos wants his Olympic gold medal after losing to drug cheat China's Sun Yang in Rio 2016, but SA's swimming superstar laments that what he lost cannot be returned.

FILE: South Africa's Chad Guy Bertrand Le Clos poses with his silver medal on the podium of the Men's 200m Freestyle during the swimming event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on 8 August 2016. Picture: AFP

CAPE TOWN - More than a gold medal, South Africa’s swimming superstar Chad le Clos believes he was robbed of a special moment in history, and an opportunity to make his country proud when he took silver in the Rio Olympic Games 200m freestyle final behind drug cheat Sun Yang of China.

Sun, whose win in Rio was overshadowed by allegations of doping before that 2016 victory, was banned last week for eight years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), effectively ending his career.

The court found that Sun refused to cooperate with blood-sample collectors in violation of rules set out by FINA, swimming’s governing body.

CAS heard testimony that in September 2018 a security guard, under instruction from Sun’s mother, smashed the casing around his vial of blood with a hammer.

FINA protected Sun, by saying the sample collectors didn’t identify themselves, and that Sun had not been properly notified that he needed to submit samples. The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) appealed FINA’s decision to CAS, which resulted in Sun’s eight-year ban. Sun’s ban has surprised few in swimming circles as China’s most famous athlete has been the centre of doping allegations, coupled with bad behaviour both in and out of the swimming pool, for several years already.

Le Clos, who lost to Sun in Rio, has no sympathy for the Chinese superstar, as South Africa’s Olympic golden boy rues the moment that passed him four years ago. It’s not about an Olympic gold medal, he says, but for the record, and for justice.

Speaking to EWN Sport, Le Clos spoke out against Sun, whom he said was a known cheat who had finally been punished. “I’m not upset. I don’t really care. I want it for my record. I lost a moment. You know how it was when Wayde (van Niekerk) and Caster (Semenya) won in 2016, it was huge. Everyone was so happy. When the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup, and when I won in London (in 2012), there was a huge moment, that you lose, and I didn’t get that. Could you imagine if England won the World Cup and the whole team was found to be doping? Can you imagine how that would feel, losing out on that moment with the trophy? But at the end of the day, it is what it is,” said Le Clos.

Le Clos finished second to take silver after Sun powered ahead of him in the closing stages of that fateful 200m final freestyle in Rio. Le Clos was ahead of the world record pace after just 50 metres, but Sun finished 0.55 seconds ahead of Le Clos in the end.

“I was ahead by a long way, with 50 metres to go in that race, but Sun Yang came passed me. He was the only man who did that, and that says it all, really. I broke the national record, the African record and Sun came passed me like I was standing still in the last 25 metres which is unheard of,” Le Clos said.

“I believe that James Guy should be given the Olympic bronze medal. I believe the guy who came in ninth should be awarded eighth in the final. I believe the guys who finished seventeenth should be awarded sixteenth, and of course, I believe I deserve that gold medal, because like I said, he tested positive twice – in 2014, which is a minimum four-year ban, but he only got a slap on the wrist for two months,” Le Clos said.

Le Clos was the least surprised by the CAS decision to ban Sun, saying the Chinese swimmer had it coming for a long time. “It’s absolutely no surprise to me. He failed two drug tests in 2014. We’ve all known that he’s a dirty swimmer. It’s not just I who knows this, it’s the whole swimming community. Finally, he’s being punished, but it’s no surprise to me,” he said.

Compared to other sports, swimming has been relatively clean, with FINA seemingly going out of its way to protect athletes like Sun. Le Clos says it’s this attitude that needs to change in swimming in order to maintain its integrity.

“I don’t believe the sport will be tainted. It’s only a few rotten apples. I think it’s one of the cleanest sports in the world, generally speaking. It’s up to governing bodies to act on it, and not protect star athletes. At the end of the day, if you make a mistake, or you cheat, it’s a choice, and you have to go. You must be banned. You must at least serve a four-year ban – a full Olympic cycle. It can’t be 6 months or 18 months,” Le Clos said.

Last month, South Africa’s former world record holder and Olympic gold medallist Roland Schoeman was suspended for doping. He tested positive in May 2019 for a prohibited product from the family of "hormonal and metabolic modulators", and has been suspended until 17 May 2020.

“I’m not sure about Roland (Schoeman’s) case. I can’t comment on that. I don’t know what happened there. At the end of the day, there are mistakes that do happen. If you test for testosterone or EPO, that’s something you can’t take by accident. That’s something that is injected over the course of a few weeks or months. But if you take a Demazin for a runny nose, which contains pseudoephedrine, that could be interpreted as a mistake,” Le Clos said.

On a global scale, the World Anti-Doping Agency is facing a monumental fight against doping in sport. Russia has been banned from the Olympic Games for four years after revelations of a doping scheme that operated for years. Russian athletes not affected by the doping ban will only be allowed to compete under a neutral flag.

“I can’t really speak about what makes athletes dope. I’ve never been offered. It has never even crossed my mind. I’ve always wanted to be homegrown, and clean. I’d rather be a 100 times silver medallist than the Olympic champion and knowing that I’ve doped,” Le Clos said.

Though China’s Sun now faces eight years in the wilderness he remains one of the sport's more recognisable faces, and extremely popular in his home country, though there is little love lost between him and rival Le Clos who had a front-row seat to Sun’s performances in the pool.

“We haven’t really spoken much. We’ve shared podiums and bus trips. It’s not personal. I don’t have anything against him, but if you cheat, you shouldn’t be allowed to compete. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said.

“I’m not focused on Sun Yang. I’m prepared to be the best I can be, and if that means he was going to be there then he’s going to be there. It’s for others to decide how it’s going to be. I just don’t want swimming to be how it was when Lance Armstrong tested positive in cycling. I love swimming, I love the sport and I love the fact that it has always been known as a clean sport. There are only a few people that have cheated and they should be punished.”