Chad le Clos said Michael Phelps “can keep quiet now” on Saturday. Hours later, Phelps let his swimming do the talking. It spoke loudly.
Just as Phelps did Friday, the 22-time Olympic medalist clocked the fastest time in the world in a butterfly event since 2009 at the U.S. Championships in San Antonio on Saturday night.
Phelps won the 100m butterfly in 50.45 seconds, .11 faster than the South African le Clos’ winning time at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia, earlier Saturday.
After his victory, Phelps said he was aware of the 2012 Olympic 200m butterfly champion le Clos’ comments from Russia that could accurately be described as trash talk.
“Let that swim make statements,” Phelps told media of his swim in San Antonio (video here). “Chad’s a good swimmer. You know, you can’t take that away from him. Like I said, I welcome any comment that anyone wants to say. It doesn’t bother me.”
Phelps has uttered those last two sentences before. He’s dealt with similar comments from other swimmers in the past.
Leading up to the 2008 Olympics, Australian Ian Thorpe repeatedly said Phelps would fail if he tried to win a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games. Phelps, as he did after countryman Ian Crocker once beat him in a 100m butterfly in 2003, posted a picture of Thorpe and/or Thorpe’s comments in his locker for motivation. Then he proved Thorpe wrong.
Also in 2008, France’s Alain Bernard said before the Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay of the Americans, “We’re going to smash them. That’s what we came here for.” Phelps and the U.S. upset the French at the Beijing Games, with Jason Lezak running down Bernard in an epic anchor leg.
In 2009, Serbian Milorad Cavic splashed into the controversy of the time about (now-banned) ultra-fast suits, challenging Phelps by saying the American had options other than Speedo to wear for races, insinuating there were better models such as Cavic’s Arena suit.
Phelps, who beat Cavic by .01 the year before at the Beijing Olympics, responded by beating Cavic by .13 in the 2009 World Championships final. Phelps broke the world record that Cavic had set in the semifinals. Phelps’ celebrated by popping and slapping his black Speedo bodysuit.
“It’s happened to me in the past,” Phelps said Saturday. “Thorpe said some stuff. Cavic said some stuff. Go ahead. It’s just going to fuel me. Bernard in the 4x100m free relay. … If you want to do it, go for it. Like I said, I welcome it. I smile at some and get serious at other comments. They are what they are, they’re just comments, and they’re printed on a piece of paper. It has nothing to do with me. Whatever I do in the pool will speak for itself.”
Phelps also made reference Saturday to his original May 15 comments about the 200m butterfly being a slow event.
“I don’t do it to talk trash,” Phelps said. “I do it to state facts, and I know some people went back and checked my facts after I said that stuff about the 200m fly, and I was right. So I know my facts about the sport.”
On Sunday, le Clos back tracked from his previous comments a little, saying he’s not a trash talker and not to classify him in the group of the likes of Cavic.
“I don’t fear Michael Phelps,” he said Sunday. “I never have, and I never will. … If he wants to race tomorrow, I’ll race tomorrow.”
Le Clos and Phelps have not raced since the 2012 Olympics.
Phelps’ longtime rival Laszlo Cseh, who won the 200m butterfly at Worlds, said the Rio Games will be his fourth and final Olympics.
“If there is no Michael, then there is no me,” said Cseh, whose five Olympic medals spread across three Games all came in events won by Phelps. “He is the fastest swimmer. He always [pushes] me to the times I achieve.”
Phelps is scheduled to swim the 200m individual medley in San Antonio on Sunday.
NBC Olympic researcher Amanda Doyle contributed to this report from Kazan.