Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos, once so friendly that they reportedly agreed to go swimming with sharks together (though there aren’t reports it actually happened), don’t appear to be on the best of terms at the moment.
It all started May 15.
Michael Phelps, who had sworn off swimming the 200m butterfly in his comeback in 2014, had started to warm to re-adding his signature event. Even though it’s among the more grueling of the five individual events he swam in his prime in 2004 and 2008.
“It’s interesting watching the world in this event,” Phelps told media at a meet in Charlotte, N.C., on May 15. “If you look at what [Tom] Malchow won in 2000 [his time at the Sydney Olympics], still what everybody’s going nowadays. It’s still not that fast an event.”
Malchow won gold in 2000 in 1:55.35, when a 15-year-old Phelps debuted at the Olympics and placed fifth.
When Phelps made those comments May 15, two men worldwide had broken 1:55 since the London Olympics, while top times in most other events had dropped more significantly in the same 15-year period.
Well, the man who beat Phelps in the 200m butterfly at the London Olympics did not take kindly to Phelps’ comments.
“He’s been talking a lot of smack in the media about how slow the butterfly is, so I just can’t wait until I race him,” South African Chad le Clos said Wednesday at the World Championships, according to The Associated Press.
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On Friday, Phelps clocked the fastest 200m butterfly in the world for the year, a 1:52.94 at the U.S. Championships. The time would have won the 2015 World title by .54 of a second, over longtime Hungarian rival Laszlo Cseh and le Clos. It would have won the 2012 Olympic title by .02 over le Clos.
It was Phelps’ fastest time in the event since his world record of 1:51.51 set at the 2009 World Championships while wearing a now-outlawed fast body suit.
On Saturday, le Clos repeated as 100m butterfly World champion, clocking an African record 50.56.
“I just did a [100m butterfly] time that [Phelps] hasn’t done in four years, so he can keep quiet now,” le Clos said on Eurosport. Six years, actually. Phelps hasn’t clocked 50.56 or better in the 100m butterfly since 2009, when he set the world record of 49.82.
Le Clos went on in speaking to more media in Kazan on Saturday.
“I’m just very happy that he’s back to his good form, so he can’t come out and say, ‘Oh, I haven’t been training’ or all that rubbish that he’s been talking,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “Next year [at Rio] is going to be Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier.
“Look, I don’t want to say it’s easy to swim by yourself [against lesser competition at the U.S. Championships than at Worlds], but it’s a lot harder when you know Chad le Clos is coming back at you the last 50 meters. That’s what he’s got to think about really.”
Phelps, the three-time Olympic 100m fly champ who is swimming the 100m fly at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio on Saturday, had a best 100m butterfly time in 2014 of 51.17.
Also Saturday, Cseh said that he was aware of Phelps’ 200m butterfly time from the night before.
“It’s quite good, but it doesn’t matter because I won the World Championship,” Cseh, whose five Olympic medals over three Games all came in events won by Phelps, said on Eurosport.