South Africa is still eyeing a piece of sporting history at this year's Commonwealth Games, despite losing the opportunity to host them.

Swimming legend Chad le Clos will travel to Birmingham with 17 Commonwealth medals in his collection, just one behind the record jointly shared by shooters Philip Adams and Mick Gault.

It means the 30-year-old needs just two more podium finishes to take the record for himself - a feat that seems well within his grasp.

Le Clos, a butterfly and freestyle specialist, won Olympic gold at London 2012 and boasts 14 world titles across the long and short course events.

His Commonwealth Games haul includes seven golds, but if he does break the record in Birmingham it will be bittersweet as he lost the chance to do it in front of home fans in Durban.

The South African city was initially awarded the Games in 2015 and was set to be the first African host in history.

Things quickly went wrong, however, with the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) stripping Durban of the rights in 2017 due to a series of financial problems.

Birmingham stepped in and that is where Le Clos must aim for his unique achievement.

Chad le Clos could seal a piece of Commonwealth Games history in Birmingham ©Getty Images
Chad le Clos could seal a piece of Commonwealth Games history in Birmingham ©Getty Images

"Chad is without a doubt an icon and a role model for athletes, irrespective of code," said Lwandile Simelane, South Africa's Chef de Mission for Birmingham 2022.

"He's always a fantastic element to have on the team, and he's always a guy who goes out for the country and gives his absolute best.

"It's a great thing to have him in a Games like this where you have a good mixture of youngsters and the more senior athletes like Chad they can look up to.

"He's obviously chasing the medals to become the most highly decorated Commonwealth Games athlete.

"So we're looking forward to him reaching some of those targets."

South Africa will be sending a team of around 300 athletes and officials to Birmingham 2022, but thoughts will inevitably turn to what might have been in Durban.

However, the CGF's new blueprint for the Games, which lists athletics and swimming as the only compulsory sports and allows for the event to be held across multiple cities, could provide cost-saving incentives for the country to bid again.

"We've got to be looking with great interest at how this new model works," said Simelane, the first vice-president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee.

"Because we definitely hope that we could host a major Games in our near future in South Africa.

"It is a bitter pill to swallow that we could have been welcoming people instead of boarding planes.

"So it is a bit of a different feeling for us. 

"But I definitely don't see any reason why, with improvements in the country and so forth, that South Africa wouldn't be hosting a major Games.

"It's very exciting when we see current hosts coming up with innovations. It gives us hope that we can also find a model that works for us.

"If it goes well then it will be forging a new type of hosting parameter for sport. And any types of innovations should always be welcomed."

The Birmingham 2022 model of multiple Athletes' Villages is also something Simelane wants to look at closely.

"It's something we have to figure out," she said.

Durban was initially awarded the 2022 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
Durban was initially awarded the 2022 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

"The obvious ripple effect of that is you have to take a few more staff. 

"You need to make sure there is a doctor in every Village, instead of having a few stationed in one Village. 

"So it does increase your staff compliment. I don't think it will do much to kill morale though because I think there's going to be a general consensus of support and being there for each other as a team, irrespective of where you happen to go to sleep at night."

Le Clos will be joined in Birmingham by fellow swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker, who won the Olympic 200 metres breaststroke title at Tokyo 2020 in a world record time after a golden Commonwealth double at Gold Coast 2018.

Nineteen-year-old Lara van Niekerk won 50m breaststroke bronze at the World Championships in Budapest last month, while there are also hopes in the pool for 18-year-old Matt Sates. 

The teenage pair demonstrate the young talent South Africa is hoping to promote across its squad.

In athletics, Prudence Sekgodiso is a hope in the 800m while sprinter Akani Simbine will defend his 100m title after finishing fourth in Tokyo. 

"We definitely think we have a strong team and exciting prospects," said Simelane. 

"We have a lot of hope in the pool, also with the youngsters.

"For a lot of the athletes, it's a big Games.

"For a number of them it's the opportunity to announce yourself and test yourself on the international stage.

"The first time a lot of people heard of Tatjana was the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

"So it's definitely an opportunity for the Olympic hopefuls to gauge where they stand."

South Africa also has hopes for its netballers and the team which will contest the first ever women's T20 cricket tournament.

"For netball it is one of the big tournaments for them, because they don't feature in the Olympics," said Simelane.

"Cricket is very exciting. We won a medal in the first ever Olympic surfing competition in Tokyo, so we don't do too bad on the 'first evers'. 

Tatjana Schoenmaker will compete in Birmingham after claiming Olympic gold in Tokyo ©Getty Images
Tatjana Schoenmaker will compete in Birmingham after claiming Olympic gold in Tokyo ©Getty Images

"We look forward to seeing what the Proteas ladies can do in that tournament and we're quite confident. 

"We've got some of the top batters and bowlers in the world, and we're excited about what they can do." 

South Africa will be without star 400m runner Wayde van Niekerk in Birmingham as the world record holder and Rio 2016 Olympic champion has not been named following an injury-hit season.

Caster Semenya is also likely to be missing as she continues her fight against World Athletics rules which prevent her from competing in her favoured 800m and 1500m events, unless she takes testosterone-suppressing medication.

Semenya topped the podium over both distances at Gold Coast 2018 and the double Olympic gold medallist could run in the 5,000m at the World Athletics Championships this month.

She has always been unconditionally supported by South African sport which insists Semenya should simply be treated as a female athlete.

World Athletics has consistently said its rules are necessary to ensure women can participate on fair and equal terms, however.

"Our feelings have always been worn on our sleeves about the treatment of Caster," said Simelane.

"As it sits I don't think she's going to be with us in Birmingham, but we definitely wish her well for trying to get to the World Championships." 

South Africa was badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as the country, and the surrounding region, often found itself the subject of travel bans as the rest of the world reacted to the virus.

This was the case after the discovery of the Omicron variant in November, with some claiming that Africa was often unfairly and disproportionately blacklisted. 

Simelane said the situation was better now as the team prepares for Birmingham, and athletes have returned to major global events.

"Everybody had the ordinary limitations that every country has had," she said.

"I don't think we have experienced it as badly as we did for Tokyo for example, where we had a number of travel bans, so our athletes couldn't even get out to the international stage to try and qualify and compete. 

"Regulations in this country have had an effect, but it hasn't been as debilitating as for the Tokyo team.

South Africa has big hopes for its women's cricket team who will compete in the inaugural T20 tournament at the Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
South Africa has big hopes for its women's cricket team who will compete in the inaugural T20 tournament at the Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

"It was quite limited for a number of athletes to not be able to participate in some world events. 

"It's been an experience and a half, and hopefully we're behind it. It seems a lot of travel restrictions have been lifted. 

"Hopefully everyone is where they need to be."

South Africa won 13 golds in Gold Coast and 37 medals in all.

"We don't like to put pressure on the team but naturally people will say 'this is what you did in Gold Coast' so we definitely want to match it or better," said Simelane.

"Gold Coast was a good showing.

"You had youngsters like Tatjana announcing herself to the world, and those are the types of things, particularly at a Commonwealth Games, you get very excited about.

"It was exciting to see all of these youngsters, who didn't really know how good they were, now getting a bit of validation and a bit of understanding on how far in their preparedness they were to take on the Olympics. 

"It's exciting to watch that development happen in real time."

South Africa will have more women than men in its Birmingham 2022 squad and is proud of the opportunities the Commonwealth Games provides for both female and Para-athletes.

"The inclusion of some of these codes does make the Commonwealth Games this year a very gender inclusive Games," said Simelane. 

"We're also excited to have a Games where you can have your Para-athletes and able-bodied at one event. 

"So we do have a great compliment of Para-athletes coming through as well.

Akani Simbine will defend his Commonwealth 100 metres title ©Getty Images
Akani Simbine will defend his Commonwealth 100 metres title ©Getty Images

"That's such a guiding light for us and I'm grateful that as a country we also took on that opportunity and we didn't waste that chance. 

"We ensured that as best as possible we have balanced the field ourselves, to give the ladies equal opportunities and the Para-athletes who have events in their classifications the chance to qualify. 

"We're looking forward to being part of the inclusive Games and delivering an inclusive team ourselves."

Simelane, also a vice-president of South Africa Hockey, will be serving as Chef de Mission for the first time.

"It's my first shot at it and I hope I do justice to the position," she said.

"For me, the goal is simple. 

"Myself and the Games management team for South Africa need to give the athletes the best possible experience and the best possible logistical environment for them to be able to focus on results."