Some 20 minutes later Cameron van der Burgh won SA’s second medal of the world championships‚ making the 50m breaststroke bronze podium for the sixth consecutive time.
Le Clos‚ as he did in the semifinals on Tuesday night‚ went out hard to establish a commanding lead‚ but unlike the previous evening‚ he kept pushing on the final length.
Le Clos’s time would have been good enough for Olympic gold at Rio 2016‚ where the South African star was knocked off the podium into fourth place.
That defeat hurt him‚ but his performance on Wednesday would have eased the pain.
Behind him were the Olympic silver and bronze medallists‚ Masato Sakai of Japan and Tamas Kenderesi‚ another Hungarian‚ who ended sixth and fourth.
Le Clos showed how much it meant when receiving his gold on the podium‚ shedding those trademark tears even before the strains of Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika sounded through the Duna Arena.
Olympic champion Michael Phelps retired after Rio‚ but Le Clos can take heart that he is now the only man apart from the American legend to have reclaimed the 200m butterfly crown.
At Barcelona in 2013 Le Clos joined Phelps as the only man to have won the 100m and 200m butterfly double at a world championships.
He will bid for another double on Saturday night‚ but this time he faces Olympic champion Joseph Schooling of Singapore.
It could be a tough ask‚ but Le Clos‚ 25‚ is back on the up‚ having relocated from Durban to Cape Town and switched coach to Italian Andrea Di Nino.
He’s still looking to improve on the 1:52.96 he achieved five years ago.
Van der Burgh‚ 29‚ never got the head start he usually enjoys‚ and he was unable to hold off English motorboat Adam Peaty‚ who missed his world record but still dipped below 26 seconds.
Peaty clocked 25.99‚ while Brazilian Joao Gomes Junior took silver in 26.52. Van der Burgh’s 26.60 wasn’t shabby‚ just short of the 26.54 African record he achieved in the heats on Wednesday morning.
Van der Burgh picked up his first gong at the age of 18 at Melbourne 2007‚ and has now amassed 10 medals‚ six in the 50m and four in the 100m breaststroke.
He pulled out of the 100m on Sunday to focus on the 50m.