Chad le Clos, a South African Olympic swimmer, wanted to beat Michael Phelps. In the 2016 Summer Olympics, Michael Phelps was on a come back mission after a difficult interim since the 2012 Olympics. By the end of the 2016 Olympics, Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time with 28 medals, 23 of which are gold. Before Chad le Clos took off on the 200m Men’s individual butterfly semifinals, he shot as many looks as possible toward Phelps. One infamous and well-timed photo shows him looking at Phelps mid-stroke. While the two were waiting in the warm up area, Phelps sat, staring, with a distinct look on his face- somewhere between disgust and determination. Clos, in the meantime, danced around and tried to intimidate Phelps.
For years, Chad le Clos had seized the opportunity of the absence of Michael Phelps from competition to position himself ahead of Michael Phelps. In 2014 Chad le Clos beat a time Phelps hadn’t been near in 6 years. Chad le Clos made an impressive accomplishment. Quite quickly afterward, Phelps beat him.
Chad le Clos displayed hubristic pride rather than authentic pride. Hubristic pride is performance-oriented. Psychology Today explains that “subjective feelings of superiority and arrogance, may facilitate dominance by motivating behaviors such as aggression, hostility, and manipulation.” Rather than focus on actual competence and mastery of skill, like the 200m butterfly, hubristic pride focuses on avoiding the perception of incompetence and instead focuses on performance, as well as domination. Chad le Clos wanted to dominate Michael Phelps and perform better than him.
Michael Phelps, on the other hand, displayed authentic pride, true competence and mastery of his skill- swimming. For Phelps it wasn’t about the 200m butterfly specifically. Phelps may or may not have wanted to dominate Chad le Clos. He may or may not have wanted to perform better than him. Phelps made it clear in his demonstration of character that he was only interested in competing against himself. He didn’t look at Clos during the race. In interviews, he said he wasn’t staring down Clos during that famous pre-swim moment. After struggling with the race in the previous Olympics, Phelps wanted to master himself and his skill.
Then, Phelps beat Chad le Clos in the semi final 200m butterfly race by less than one full second.
After that, Phelps beat Chad le Clos in the final by more than one second. Michael Phelps took gold in the 200m butterfly. Chad le Clos did not place. Both men are extremely talented and driven athletes achieving shattering world records and many accomplishments. Pride may or may not have had anything to do with the performance of either athlete that day. However, the demonstrated behaviors and consequent performance speaks volumes.
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