Michael Phelps finished at Indianapolis just the way he wanted — with another resounding victory.
On an emotional night for the 26-year-old swimmer and his family, Phelps beat his biggest rival by more than three seconds and swam the best 200 IM in the world this year, beating the previous best time by nearly two seconds. He won the race in a startling 1 minute, 56.32 seconds.
This was no ordinary race for Phelps, who made his first Olympic team in 2000 at Indy and broke two world records at the IUPUI Natatorium.
”Being able to come back and relive the memories and moments was really special,” Phelps said after presumably competing for the final time in this venue. ”I’m sure my mom has cried a few times already tonight and we had a DP (Debbie Phelps) moment this week.”
His sister, Hilary, posted Twitter messages indicating there were tears coming from the family’s familiar cheering section.
For the Phelps family, Indy has been a place where they have celebrated great victories and endured unimaginable losses. So Saturday night’s finale was one everybody wanted to savor.
Phelps’ mother and sister stood for the final 100 meters of the race, and when it ended, they hugged, clapped and shook hands with those around them. A few fans not far from the Phelps family shouted ”We love you Michael” as a somber-looking Debbie Phelps covered her mouth. Phelps’ sister, Hilary, acknowledged on Twitter that there were tears in the stands.
It was a dramatic climax to a three-day meet that really didn’t match the hype.
Lochte, who won five gold medals at the 2011 world championships and beat Phelps in both of last year’s head-to-head meetings, couldn’t keep up with his rival.
The New York native and Florida resident was relegated to two consolation heats Thursday and never seriously challenged the speedy Phelps on Saturday, either. Lochte finished the race in 1:59.37 and didn’t win a single event. Darian Townsend finished second in the 200 IM in 1:59.28.
Then again, Lochte has not been traditionally strong during the long in-season training regimen, and this week’s schedule certainly didn’t help.
On Saturday, he had to square off with a determined Phelps less than 30 minutes after sharing third place with Denmark’s Mathias Gydesen in the 100 backstroke.
”I think if you ask any backstroker, they’ll basically tell you it’s a leg event and it hurts,” Lochte said. ”But I knew I had to do that double because if I want to do that at the Olympics, I have to learn how do that back-to-back.”
Phelps, meanwhile, kept the focus simple.
After winning the 100 butterfly Thursday and the 400 IM on Friday, the most decorated American Olympian withdrew from the 200 butterfly Saturday morning so he could finish with a flourish.
Did he ever.
Phelps led from start to finish in the 200 IM, opening with a 25.02 second butterfly leg. He spent the next 150 meters pulling away from the field.
”If I’d jumped under 56, I would have been ecstatic,” Phelps said. ”But that’s a half-second faster than my time last year. For right now, I’m very pleased.”
He wasn’t the only familiar big-name swimmer leaving competitors in the wake.
Jessica Hardy posted the world’s fastest time in the 100 breaststroke (1:06.12), winning by more than two seconds.
Caitlin Levernez finished with the world’s second-best time in the women’s 200 IM (2:09.71), defeating second-place finisher Ariana Kukors by more than a second.
And Missy Franklin, the 16-year-old Olympic hopeful, won the 100 back in a season-best 59.89 seconds. She beat her nearest challenger by 1.41 seconds and put up the No. 4 time in the world before swimming in the consolation heat of the 200 IM.
”Tonight, it was a little too much back-to-back,” Franklin said with a laugh. ”But the 100 back is my favorite and the 200 IM is a good event for me.”
Other winners were Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu in the 200 fly (2:07.58), Bobby Bollier in the men’s 200 fly (1:56.34), Marcus Titus in the men’s 100 back (1:00.86) and Nick Thoman in the men’s 100 back (53.95 seconds). Gillian Ryan took the women’s 800 freestyle title in 8:32.49, while Matias Koski won the men’s 1,500 free in 15:09.17.
The comeback kids had their moments, too.
Brendan Hansen, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist, closed quickly over the final 50 meters to finish second in the men’s 100 breast (1:01.04), and two-time Olympic gold medalist Amanda Beard posted a 1:08.50 for second place in the women’s 100 breast.
But the big winner Saturday, of course, was Phelps and his family, who got to see Phelps win for the third time in four tries this week and see his name appear on both of the natatorium’s end walls one final time.
”I was talking to Rowdy (Gaines) this morning and waiting for coffee with Lindsay (Benko) and we were talking about how crazy it was watching our names written up there in calligraphy on this wall,” Phelps said. ”It is kind of cool to think 12 years back and relieve all those memories.”