NANJING - When South Africa's Chad le Clos competed at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Singapore four years ago, he was still relatively unknown.
It was the swimmer's first major international meet and he had never had to field questions from the world's media before.
No one had stopped him for an autograph or a picture either.
How life has changed since capturing five medals in the Republic.
Back at the Nanjing YOG as an ambassador for the Games, the 22-year-old has, in a way, come full circle.
He is now one of the most recognisable swimmers in the world, after pipping Michael Phelps - the most decorated Olympian in history - to gold in the 200m butterfly at the London Olympics in 2012.
Both fans and brands are after the signature of the Durban native, who counts luxury watchmaker Omega among those that he works for now.
It might have been London that catapulted him to stardom but it was the Singapore YOG that gave him his breakthrough.
"It began all in Singapore for me," he told The Straits Times.
"The YOG may not be the Olympic Games but it taught me a lot of very important lessons."
"It was the first time that I really raced at the international level, the first time I had to do a press conference.
"A lot of athletes underestimate what going to a competition involves. They think you just warm up and race but there's actually a lot of procedures you have to go through."
Le Clos, a butterfly specialist, is not the only YOG alumnus who has benefited from the Youth Games and gone on to greater things at the senior level.
There were about 150 athletes from over 80 National Olympic Committees at the 2012 Olympics - several among them medallists in London - who took their first steps at the Singapore YOG.
Jessica Fox, an Australian slalom canoeist won gold in the K1 event in 2010, then went on to take silver in the same event two years later at the Olympics.
She also won two golds at the world championships in Prague last year.
Puerto Rican tennis player Monica Puig did not win any medals in Singapore but is now a fast-rising player on the professional women's circuit.
Ranked No. 63, she won her maiden title on the Women's Tennis Association tour in Strasbourg, France in May.
Said le Clos, who also won the 100m butterfly silver in London: "It was important for me to have the stepping stone of the YOG, and it's a crazy feeling to be back here now.
"I know a lot of the swimmers I'm going to watch might be racing me in two years time at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro."
He may have won the 100m butterfly gold at the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but he made a special mention of Singapore's Joseph Schooling, 19, the silver medallist.
"He swam some amazing times. I remember what it feels like to be at that age and coming up and swimming faster times.
"Young ones like him make me feel the pressure," joked le Clos.
As an ambassador for the YOG, one of the values he hopes the young athletes at the Nanjing Games can pick up is self-belief.
Said the two-time Fina Swimming World Cup winner: "Never let anybody tell you you can't do anything. When I was growing up, I was never a good butterfly swimmer and a lot of people said it wasn't my stroke.
"I just believed in myself."
This article was first published on August 21, 2014.
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