Chad Le Clos On Being In A “Dark, Very Depressed Place” And How Swimming To His Potential Determines Happiness

Chad Le Clos almost pulled out of the 2021 World Short-Course Championships after finding himself in a “dark, very depressed place” following a traumatic experience at the start of the year.

It wasn’t until after the Tokyo Games – in which he came fifth in the 200 fly but failed to proceed from the 100 heats – that the four-time Olympic medalist sought professional help.

He was still deeply unhappy as the year came to a close and it was only the prospect of closing in on Ryan Lochte‘s record medal haul that pushed him to compete in Abu Dhabi in December where he won 100 fly silver.

Speaking in a wide-ranging interview ahead of World Mental Health Day, Le Clos told Swimming World:

“I almost never went to world short-course; I was in Dubai in my room literally like ‘dad I don’t want to be here, I think I need to come home’.

“He was like ‘my boy, I’ll book you the next flight to come home, a direct flight to Durban. To heck with swimming, your health is more important’.

“And then you won’t believe how life works, I’m looking at flights and I see that Swimming Stats thing and I see I have the second most medals to Ryan Lochte.

“And I said to myself ‘hey, I can suck it up for 10 days, let’s maybe squeak a bronze just to get closer.’

“I swear that is what kept me there.

“I was motivated to be there but 10 days out I was unhappy, very unhappy – unhappy with myself, unhappy with everything.”

Chad Le Clos: Photo Courtesy: Gian Mattia D’Alberto – LaPresse

He spoke in May of his regret at not having started therapy sooner following his experience, the circumstances of which he has pledged to never reveal.

Having put further time between himself and his experience, Le Clos explained why he hadn’t done so earlier, saying:

“When you go through a traumatic experience….you don’t realize you’re in the well-being space that you’re in, I think that’s what it was.

“I thought I was past the hump but I clearly wasn’t. You know when you’re walking out for an Olympic Games and you don’t feel any emotions… I’m a very emotional person right? I watched Lara (van Niekerk) win her first 50 breaststroke title and I literally burst into tears.

“I did the rugby, I was at the South Africa v Argentina match and I held the flag in front of 70,000 people in my hometown. I literally burst into tears: I am a very emotional person when it comes to moments like that.

“When you are walking out of an Olympic Games and you don’t feel much, you don’t feel really anything, you kind of know there is a problem.

“I went through it in January last year and I wasn’t able to really process it, it was a difficult time for me, I genuinely didn’t know how to put it away in my mind properly.

“I did a lot of therapy, treatment; even during ISL I was in a really bad place, dark place, really depressed place.”

He added:

“But things happen in life: I am just happy I am back to where I was; there’s a lot of things, a lot of factors but I think at the end of the day you have just got to be happy with yourself.

“Unfortunately my happiness is determined by my results; I have realized that.

“It’s tough, it’s hard, I can’t seem to shake that just yet. But that’s not the reason I was depressed, it’s not the results, it had nothing to do with swimming.

“I am happy every day, I am not depressed, but I am truly complete when I am swimming well. Not necessarily winning but when I am swimming to my potential.

“If my potential is bronze in two years’ time, I can live with that. If my potential is bronze and I get seventh, there’s a difference there. Yeah, we’ll see.”