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Could South African Swimmer Chad Le Clos Be the Next Michael Phelps?

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COMMENTARY | Swimmer Chad le Clos grabbed the top award among South African athletes when he was awarded the "Sports Star of the Year" award on Nov. 4. Le Clos won the award at the SA Sports Awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa.

In August, I wrote about le Clos and his future in the sport of swimming. (You can read that article here.) At just 20 years old, le Clos potentially has many years of swimming ahead of him, and as of today, there are few athletes who can rival le Clos' talent and ability in the pool.

Le Clos quickly became an overnight sensation at the 2012 Olympic Games when he bested American Michael Phelps in the 200-meter butterfly and won gold, defeating Phelps by five-hundredths of a second. Later, le Clos finished behind Phelps in the 100-meter butterfly. In that event, le Clos and Russia's Yevgeny Korotyshkin tied for second.

Le Clos finished fifth in the 400-meter individual medley and also competed in the 200-meter individual medley. After finishing seventh in the semifinals, he scratched the 200 individual medley in order to better prepare for the 100 butterfly.

In many ways, le Clos resembles Phelps when he was just 20 years old. At the 2004 Olympic Games, Phelps won individual medals in the 100 and 200 butterfly events and the 200 and 400 individual medley events -- the same events le Clos contested at the 2012 Olympic Games.

The next year, at the 2005 World Championships, Phelps would have been 20 years old. There he won individual gold medals in the 200 individual medley and the 200-meter freestyle, and he won silver in the 100-meter butterfly.

Should le Clos continue on his current trajectory, he could eventually rival Phelps in individual accomplishments. He will never eclipse Phelps' overall accomplishments, as le Clos will not have the help of the prowess of the American relay teams. (And to be frank, le Clos is not likely to change the sport of swimming the ways Phelps has. But that's another topic for another time.)

Nevertheless, le Clos was recognized on Nov. 4 for his incredible accomplishments in the pool at the 2012 Olympic Games, and his talents were clearly recognized by those in South Africa.

In order to win the "Sports Star of the Year" award, le Clos had to defeat blade runner Oscar Pistorious, who ran at the 2012 Games on carbon fiber blades, and Caster Semenya, who won the only track and field medal for the South Africans when she claimed silver in the women's 800-meter. Cameron van der Burgh, who won gold in the men's 100-meter breaststroke, also was nominated for the award.

A lot of things could happen during the next four or eight years, but I'll be watching to see how le Clos competes in the lead up to the 2016 and event 2020 summer Olympic Games. As a young competitor, his star is quickly rising, and I'm interested to see where le Clos goes from here. Because swimmers are competing for longer and longer these days, fans could be watching le Clos race for years to come.

Sandra Johnson was a competitive swimmer for more than 15 years before she began coaching. She is a longtime Olympic fan, and while working for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., she had the opportunity to immerse herself in the Olympic Movement. Follow her on Twitter: @SandraJohnson46.

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