Chad le Clos torpedoed American speed king Caeleb Dressel to take the 100m butterfly crown at the world shortcourse championships in Hangzhou‚ China‚ on Thursday.
Le Clos‚ the three-time defending champion and world record holder in this event in the 25m pool‚ went lane-to-lane for the first time against Dressel‚ the man who in 2017 took the South African’s 100m fly world crown in the 50m Olympic-size pool.
But it was never close on Thursday as Le Clos shot into an early lead and held his advantage throughout the four laps to touch in 48.50sec.
He was well short of the 48.08 world record he set at the last short-course showpiece in 2016‚ but he was also comfortably ahead of second-placed Dressel in 48.71.
“It was the biggest race of my short-course career‚” said Le Clos. “I was up against the best field by far and this was the main event of the whole week.”
He admitted he had been nervous ahead of the battle. “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. I really wanted to race Dressel. He is the best short-course yards swimmer and I am the best metres swimmer‚” he said‚ referring to the US system where they race short-course yards.
This was the ninth world short-course butterfly title of Le Clos’s career‚ making him the most prolific champion in a single stroke.
American Ryan Lochte won 10 short-course crowns in the individual medley. The triumph also made him only the fourth man to win a world title four times in a row‚ with Lochte and Britons James Hickman and Mark Foster.
It was also good consolation for Le Clos, who won silver in the 200m butterfly earlier. But he acknowledged that Dressel had the additional challenge of having to recover after racing the 50m freestyle semifinals just 20 minutes earlier.
The American was untouchable in that contest‚ setting the fastest time of the night‚ 20.51.
SA’s Brad Tandy‚ a 50m freestyle finalist at the Rio Olympics‚ finished third in his semifinal in 21.07 to qualify for Friday’s final, seeded seventh. Swimming in the outside lane one, Tandy was quick off the mark to ensure he was third behind winner Ben Proud of Britain (20.71) and Russian runner-up Vladimir Morozov (20.83).
Erin Gallagher finished eighth in the women’s 100m freestyle final‚ going slower than the 52.70 African record she cracked in the semifinals.
Gallagher’s effort in the 50m butterfly semifinals was also slower than her 26.01 swim in the heats.