By Elena Gyldenkerne
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Chad le Clos conjured one of the biggest shocks at last year's London Olympics when he pipped Michael Phelps to win the 200 meters butterfly final and the South African now heads into the world championships hungry for more titles.
A year on from what Le Clos called "the greatest moment of my life" where he denied the American great a third straight gold in his favorite event, Phelps has retired and the 21-year-old who beat him is poised to shine in Barcelona next week.
"If you asked Michael, he would have said his first gold medal in Athens was his favorite moment of all time," Le Clos told Reuters at the hilltop Montjuic complex where the swimming events are being held when the championships start on Sunday.
"So I think for me, that was going to be the best moment in my career.
"Maybe I was the happiest at that time. But I still believe I can win more gold medals in the future," added Le Clos, who has become good friends with his hero Phelps.
"If I win more gold medals I will probably be more proud of myself because I have done better but at that moment when I won the gold it was so unexpected."
After shaking off a shoulder injury sustained at the start of the year, Le Clos is a firm favorite for the 200 meters butterfly in Barcelona and he also has a good chance of a medal in the 100 meters version.
He is also competing in the 50 meters butterfly for the first time but said he would be happy just to make the final.
The experienced Takeshi Matsuda of Japan was probably the main threat in the 200 meters, with Germany's Steffen Deibler and Evgeny Korotyshkin of Russia the men to watch in the 100 meters, Le Clos said.
"I think I probably am the favorite for the 200 meters," he said.
"But for me it doesn't make any difference. I have prepared exactly the same that I would have otherwise. I just want to win the race, no matter what.
"I think I am in the best possible shape I can be considering what happened in the beginning of the year.
"If you had asked me six months ago I would have answered: well, not so good. But at the moment I am feeling strong."
Looking to the future, he said he was considering adding the freestyle to his repertory of competition events and there was no reason why he could not challenge top names like James Magnussen of Australia and American Nathan Adrian.
"Freestyle is always the hardest race to win the medals," Le Clos said.
"I want to go for freestyle because that is where all the attention is.
"It would be awesome to beat James Magnussen one day but for now it is not really the focus.
"If I can keep improving, like I have done in the butterfly, there is no reason why I can't challenge."
The men's 50 meters butterfly is on Monday, with the 200 meters on Wednesday and the 100 meters on Saturday.
(Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid; Editing by Sonia Oxley)