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Record-setting South African swimmer Chad le Clos driven to ‘get back on top’ after trauma

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Swimming superstar Chad le Clos says his mental health was "thrown into a lively state" prior to a history-making comeback at the Commonwealth Games.

South Africa's most successful Olympian became the joint most-decorated Commonwealth Games athlete of all time after collecting a record-equalling 18th medal on Sunday.

Le Clos' latest podium placing – a silver in the 200m butterfly – was his first in international competition since experiencing a personal trauma 18 months ago.

The 30-year-old will not disclose the nature of the incident but Le Clos wants others to know the value of seeking professional support.

"It took me about seven or eight months to speak to somebody and I think that was a bit too late [as] it took a while for me to get back to normal," he told BBC Sport Africa.

"Certain things affect people in different ways and you have to be strong to seek some help and talk to someone."

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Le Clos experienced his trauma in January 2021, six months prior to the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

"The Games were nothing for me – they felt like nothing for me. I don't count that as an Olympics for me," he said.

Le Clos 'in good spirits' now

Several iconic swimmers have spoken of their mental health challenges in recent years, with Australian Ian Thorpe discussing a diagnosis of depression and American Michael Phelps sharing how he manages anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

"My experience was a bit different but, yeah, there's a lot of things that happen outside the pool," Le Clos said.

"I had some troubles, I was in a pretty dark place. This was something that happened last year and threw me into a bit of a lively state. I wish I could take back the last two years.

"I was very lucky to have a great sports psychologist to help me get through a lot of things and of course my family were there.

"It's been a very hard year and a half, but I'm good now, I'm in good spirits. I'm happy, healthy and mentally I'm good. All the guys out there: just get help if you need it, don't feel ashamed."

Le Clos insists his only focus now is winning races again after New Zealand's Lewis Clareburt narrowly edged gold in Sunday's 200m butterfly final at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre in Birmingham.

"It hurts," he said.

"I thought I had enough in me to fight through to the end but the atmosphere in there was phenomenal and I knew someone was coming back at me, I just didn't know who.

"Today (Sunday) was the 10-year anniversary of me beating Phelps at London 2012 so it's a bittersweet moment but I'll be back. Getting back on top is all I care about now."

Le Clos made his Commonwealth Games debut in Delhi in 2010 and now has seven gold medals, four silvers and seven bronzes.

Artmotion S.Africa

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