Chad le Clos clips Caeleb Dressel at short course worlds

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Chad le Clos exacted some revenge against the U.S. from the last two years, edging Caeleb Dressel in the 100m butterfly at the world short-course championships in Hangzhou, China, on Thursday.

The South African le Clos held off Dressel, the new American golden boy, by .21 to win his fourth straight short-course world title in the event. Le Clos had struggled recently in the 100m fly in the longer, Olympic-sized pool, missing the final at 2017 Worlds (won by Dressel) after sharing silver with rival Michael Phelps and Laszlo Cseh in Rio.

Le Clos called Thursday the biggest race of his short-course career.

“I was anxious because I was waiting the whole day for this, the whole week and the past three months because I knew this one could come,” he said, according to FINA. “I really wanted to race Dressel. He is the best short-course yards swimmer, and I am the best meters swimmer.”

Dressel, who earned a Phelps record-tying seven golds at 2017 Worlds, may have been slowed in the 100m fly final by racing 25 minutes after his 50m freestyle semifinal. He later anchored a U.S. 4x50m mixed-gender medley relay to gold in a world-record time.

“The fly could have been better, but you just move on and learn from it,” he said, according to FINA.

Short-course worlds are held in even-numbered years in a 25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used at the Olympics. U.S. Olympic champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Lilly King are among those not competing this week.

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In other events Thursday, Lisa Bratton was the surprise 200m backstroke champion, edging the U.S.’ best long-course backstroker, Kathleen Baker, by .08. Bratton, 22, missed the Rio Olympic team by one spot at trials and ranks fourth in the U.S. in the long-course 200m back this year.

Mallory Comerford added 100m free bronze to her 200m silver from earlier in the week, breaking Manuel’s American record and giving her five medals through the meet’s first three days.

Leah Smith earned 800m free bronze, as she did at long-course worlds last year.

Worlds continue Friday, with finals streaming live on OlympicChannel.com and the Olympic Channel app.

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion retires

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Cameron van der Burgh, Olympic breaststroke champ, retires

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Cameron van der Burgh, the first African man to win an individual Olympic swimming event, announced his retirement after winning the 100m breaststroke at the world short-course championships on Wednesday.

“It is the last [100m breast]. It is sad, but I am happy to end on a high,” he said, according to FINA. “The last 25 meters was the most pain I have ever had in my life in swimming, so it was a good way to finish.

“It is funny how these things turn out. At least I have no loose ends to tie up or reason to come back.”

Van der Burgh, 30, won the 100m breast at the 2012 London Games to join fellow breaststroker Penny Heyns, backstroker Joan Harrison and the 2004 men’s 4x100m free relay as South Africa’s Olympic swimming gold medalists.

Chad le Clos joined the club later in the Games when he upset Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly.

At the 2012 Games, van der Burgh won in a then-world record and dedicated it to Norwegian Alexander Dale Oen, the 2011 World champion who died suddenly while training in Arizona that spring.

Van der Burgh kept Japanese megastar Kosuke Kitajima from becoming the first male swimmer to win the same event at three Olympics, paving the way for Phelps to do it in the 200m individual medley later in the Games.

Van der Burgh added world silver medals in the event in 2013 and 2015 and Olympic silver in Rio, ceding the top spot to Brit Adam Peaty, who is not racing at short-course worlds this week.

Van der Burgh also earned 50m and 100m breast medals at every world championships between 2009 and 2015.

He is still entered in the 50m breast later this week.

MORE: The U.S. breaststroke hope to end Olympic drought

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Caster Semenya talks 800m world record, goals, meeting LeBron James

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As Caster Semenya appealed a planned rule change that could impact her dramatically, she put together one of the fastest middle-distance seasons in track and field history.

In an interview last week, the scrutinized Olympic 800m champion from South Africa declined to discuss her in-process legal challenge to an IAAF rule that would force female runners in her events with high testosterone to reduce those levels starting next season.

“I’ve been advised to stick in my lane,” Semenya said before receiving the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award at the Billie Jean King-founded Women’s Sport Foundation’s annual salute in New York City. “I cannot say anything about it.”

The IAAF expects a hearing in Semenya’s case in February with a verdict by March 26.

In 2009, when Semenya won the world 800m title by nearly 2.5 seconds at age 18, word leaked that track officials mandated she undergo sex testing. The IAAF had gender-verification testing in place until 2011, when it was replaced with a test for abnormally high levels of natural testosterone.

In July 2015, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) suspended the IAAF’s regulation, ruling that it lacked sufficient scientific backing and was therefore unjustifiably discriminatory. CAS is also handling Semenya’s appeal to the current proposed rule change.

Semenya has never spoken publicly in detail about her situation. It has never been publicly verified that Semenya’s body naturally produces abnormally high levels of testosterone or that she ever took hormone suppressants.

What’s clear is that Semenya is looking forward to competing next season.

This past spring and summer, she clocked the three fastest times of her life in each of the 400m, the 800m and the 1500m (breaking 1:55 for the first time).

Semenya is now the fourth-fastest woman in history in her primary event, the 800m, and .97 of a second slower than the questioned world record set by Czech Jarmila Kratochvílová in 1983.

It’s hard for Semenya to gauge her chances of closing in on the longest-standing record in the sport (assuming her legal challenge holds up).

“But if you are a half-second or a second away from a world record, then you think, OK, there are things that I’m doing right,” she said. “The most important thing is being consistent. When you run 1:55, 1:54 consistent, it shows that you can do better than that.

“Also when you run 400 meters under 50 [seconds], then you can run [the 1500 meters] under four minutes, it shows you still have more in the tank.”

Semenya broke those time barriers for the first time this spring and summer. She finished the season ranked No. 1 in the world in the 800m, No. 4 in the 400m and No. 9 in the 1500m, rare versatility.

She said she would rather win a fourth world title at 800m next year than break the world record. The 400m is also very much in her plans.

“If we can run almost 49 low next year … then we’ll know we’re ready to do anything at 800 meters,” she said. The only women to break 49.5 since the Rio Olympics are Rio gold medalist Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas and world silver medalist Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain.

World records clearly are important to Semenya.

She said her favorite race was not at an Olympics or world championships, but a 600m in Berlin in August 2017. She took nearly a second off the fastest time ever in the event, which is not on the Olympic program and thus is listed as a “world best” rather than a record.

Semenya returned to Berlin, also site of that eye-popping 2009 World title, for another highlight last month. She ran the world’s fastest 1000m in 22 years and met LeBron James.

“He just told me, keep on doing what I’m doing,” Semenya said. “He inspires me. I inspire him. It was just more for exchanging words when greatness meets greatness.”

NBC Sports’ Seth Rubinroit and NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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