CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Chad Le Clos knows he is under the pressure of expectation.
It happens every time he hits the pool deck.
The young South African, after all, beat Michael Phelps in the 200 meters butterfly at the London Olympics, relegating the most successful Olympian of all-time to silver and stopping the American from winning the event at three successive Games.
That expectation will crystallize even further at the world championships in Kazan, with the 23-year-old expecting them to provide a valuable insight to next year’s Rio Olympics.
“There is a lot of pressure for sure, especially after the rocky time I have had with injury and illness,’ Le Clos told Reuters via telephone.
“This is the most important event outside of the Olympics, everything after this is just warm-ups.
“I’ll be racing against the same people as next year in Rio so it is important for me to show my best form to gauge where I am.
“So the world championships will be a vital test for me.”
Le Clos has been blighted with injury and illness in the last six months, but is confident after a two-month training and racing program in the Middle East and Europe he is in good shape to contest the 50, 100 and 200 meters butterfly.
“I have already told my family there is a realistic possibility I could come back with three silvers in the butterfly, or three bronze or three fourths,” he said.
“But I also believe I can get three golds. The butterfly is such an open game at the moment.”
Le Clos will also add the 200 freestyle to his program in Russia, an event he thinks he can excel in, but will need to show huge improvement to be in medal contention.
“It will be the first time that I am swimming long-course internationally in the freestyle, short-course is usually my game.
“It’s important for me to perform well but I know that just to make the semi-finals I will probably need to set a personal best time.
“Getting to the final will be really tough, but once you are there anything can happen.”
Whatever his fortunes in Kazan, Le Clos has set his sights in Rio on becoming the most decorated male Olympian from the African continent, topping the three gold and one silver medal of Ethiopian long-distance runner Kenenisa Bekele.
Le Clos would need at least two golds from Rio to equal Bekele, whose compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba has won three gold and two bronze medals and is the most decorated African Olympian overall.
“I just want to be the best that I can be and if I win two gold medals in Rio then I will become the most decorated (male) African Olympian of all time,” he added.
“That would be a huge achievement for myself and my family.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury