Michael Phelps spent the day thinking about all the things he’s doing for the final time at the pool. It turns out that included one last win over Ryan Lochte.
Phelps finally has a gold all his own at his final Olympics.
Adding to an already unprecedented medal collection, he claimed his first individual victory of the London Games and handed Lochte a double disappointment on his rival’s final night in the pool Thursday.
Phelps set the tone right from the start with a dominating butterfly leg to become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three straight Olympics in the 200-meter individual medley. He claimed his 20th career medal, and 16th gold, in 1 minute, 54.27 seconds, just off his winning time in Beijing but still good enough for gold, just ahead of Lochte.
When it was done, there wasn’t that water-pounding celebration we’ve seen so many times from Phelps — just a slight smile as he hung on the lane rope, gazing up at the stands and soaking it all in.
”Going into every call room, I said it’s my last semifinal or my last prelim,” Phelps said, reflecting on a busy day that included a morning swim, then two more races in the evening. ”We’re kind of chalking up all the lasts of certain things.”
As he stepped on the medal podium — yep, that familiar top rung — Phelps’ eyes were glassy and he whispered something to Lochte. Then, staring up at the US flag while the nation anthem played, he bit his lip and seemed to be struggling to hold back the tears.
”Once it’s all over, it’s going to really hit me emotionally,” he said. ”I know for my mom it’s very emotional. I’m the last Phelps to come through. She’s watched my sisters go through the sport and retire.”
Phelps has never been too revealing with his emotions away from the pool.
But, with just two days to go in his swimming career, there’s a definite crack in the facade.
He’s starting to look as human out of the water as he is superhuman in it.
”To be able to win the gold medal and be the first to threepeat, it means something,” said Phelps, whose first gold in London was swimming the anchor on the 4×200 freestyle relay. ”It’s pretty special and something that I’m very happy for.”
So a farewell games that started as a bit of a disappointment is definitely looking up. He’s now won two golds and two silvers in five races — not the eight golds in eight races in China, but a more-than-fitting capper to a brilliant career that still has two more races to go: the 100 butterfly Friday and the 4×100 medley relay Saturday.
Lochte settled for silver in 1:54.90 and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took the bronze, well behind the Americans in 1:56.22.
”Ryan and I have had a lot of great races,” Phelps said. ”He has brought the best out of me many times.”
Ever the competitor, Phelps had hoped to go even faster, looking to not just win gold but take down Lochte’s world record of 1:54.00 from last year’s world championships.
”I wanted to push the first 100 as much as I could just to kind of see what would happen,” Phelps said. ”Somebody told me with like 25 to go I was under world-record pace, so it was kind of frustrating I fell a little short.”
When Phelps was done with Lochte, he hopped out of the pool and dashed to the nearby diving well to warm down, preparing for a semifinal of the 100 fly. He was the top qualifier in that one at 50.86 — more than a half-second ahead of South African Chad le Clos, who upset Phelps in the 200 fly, and setting up an additional rematch with Milorad Cavic, the outspoken Serbian who still seems to think he got to the wall first when he lost to Phelps by a hundredth of a second four years ago.
Cavic is talking a different game now.
He doesn’t think he — or anyone else — has a chance against Phelps in the last individual race of his Olympic career.
”Phelps is out of our league,” Cavic said. ”It’s not fair that I’m talking for everybody, but I’m expecting something special tomorrow. I think he’s going to go 50.5.”
Lochte went through the same warm-down routine in the diving pool as Phelps, trying to pull off an impressive double 31 minutes apart. He came up short in both races, fading to bronze in the 200 backstroke behind fellow American Tyler Clary, then touching after Phelps in the medley.
”I wanted to get all golds in my events, but you know it didn’t happen,” Lochte said. ”I’m going to have to live with that and move on and learn from it. Try not to make the same mistakes in the next four years.
”For the most part,” he insisted, ”I’m pretty satisfied.”
Lochte, who intends to keep swimming through Rio in 2016, shook hands with his rival before crawling out of the pool for the last time at these games. In a symbolic gesture, he tossed his cap and goggles into the crowd, his work done. His final tally: two golds, two silvers, one bronze and a fourth-place finish – impressive, but undoubtedly shy of what he had predicted would be ”my time.”
This time still belongs the Phelps. At least for a couple more days.
Clary beats Lochte in 200 backstroke
Tyler Clary made headlines before the Olympics by questioning Phelps’ training. On Thursday, he made them for taking down Lochte. Clary beat Lochte in the finals of the 200 backstroke, setting an Olympic record while winning his first medal of any color.
Lochte couldn’t even manage silver, as he was touched out by Japan’s Ryosuke Irie.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo carried on the Dutch tradition of producing top sprinters and prevented a red, white and blue sweep of the night, taking the women’s 100 freestyle in an Olympic-record 53.00. Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus claimed the silver in 53.38, while the bronze went to China’s Tang Yi in 53.44.
American teenager Missy Franklin got off to a terrible start. She was last at the turn and couldn’t rally. She finished fifth, two-tenths off the podium. The other US swimmer, Jessica Hardy, finished last in the eight-woman field.