Michael Phelps never minds a little trash-talking.
It just makes him go faster.
After spending all day reading Chad le Clos’ taunts from halfway around the world, Phelps beat the South African’s time from the world championships to win the 100-metre butterfly at the U.S. national championships Saturday night.
Phelps churned through the water on the return lap, far ahead of everyone, and touched in a dazzling 50.45 seconds.
He was nearly a second faster than his gold-medal winning time at the London Olympics and, more important to Phelps, he went faster than Le Clos’ time about eight hours earlier in Kazan, Russia, where he won the world championship in 50.56.
“I saw the times,” Phelps said, with a knowing grin. “I saw the comments.”
Following others who tried to get under Phelps’ skin, Le Clos launched a verbal assault from Russia, apparently confident that he had put up a time Phelps couldn’t beat. And, rest assured, this thing has gotten personal, even though they are racing in different meets and aren’t likely to meet until they get to the Rio Olympics next summer.
“I’m just very happy that he’s back to his good form, so he can’t come out and say, ‘Oh, I haven’t been training’ or all that rubbish that he’s been talking,” Le Clos said. “Next year is going to be Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier.”
Le Clos’ father even got in on it, declaring he wasn’t even bothering to look at the times Phelps was posting at the junior-varsity meet in Texas, where the winningest athlete in Olympic history was forced to swim after he was banned from the world championships as part of his punishment for a second drunken-driving arrest.
“However fast Michael goes, we go faster. I’m serious,” Bert Le Clos told The Associated Press in Kazan.
“I don’t care about his times, because I know my son is going to beat him.”
Phelps responded with his fastest 100 fly ever in a textile suit, setting him up right where he wants to be heading into his yearlong Olympic preparations.
After touching the wall, he turned quickly to see his time, shot a defiant look toward the packed stands in San Antonio, pounded the water with his arms, and spit out a mouthful of water.
“There are a lot of things I could say. But I won’t,” Phelps said.
“I’m going to do my talking with what I do in that pool.”