CHRIS DUTTON August 03, 2012
Another record ... gold medallist Michael Phelps, right, with silver medallist Ryan Lochte after the race. Photo: Getty Images
He is already the greatest swimmer of all time, but Michael Phelps added another chapter to his Olympic legend status when he became the first male to win gold in the same event in the pool at three successive Games.
In a battle between an all-time great and his biggest rival, Phelps finally broke through for the individual gold medal he had been craving since the start of the London Olympics when he beat Ryan Lochte in the 200m individual medley.
But despite picking up his 16th Olympic gold, and 20th medal overall, the superstar was still frustrated. Why? Because he wanted a world record to go with his gold medal.
Phelps finished in 1 minute, 54.27 seconds - just 0.27s outside his own world mark. That would have been the icing on the cake as the 27-year-old winds down his career, but he had to settle for the individual gold which had eluded him for the past week.
"Someone told me with 25m to go that I was under world record pace. It’s a little frustrating I fell a little short," Phelps said. "But to win the gold medal and be the first to three-peat, I think it’s something pretty special and something I’m happy for."
Phelps pushed hard through the first 100m as Lochte had to back up just 30 minutes after his bronze medal in the 200m backstroke. By the time they turned into the last 50m freestyle, Phelps was half a body length clear and a fatigued Lochte couldn’t close the gap.
Phelps's two previous attempts to clinch a "three-peat" were thwarted when he failed to finish in the top three in the 400m individual medley and took silver in the 200m butterfly. But there was no denying the legend at his third attempt.
Amazingly, he could still finish his fourth Olympics with two more gold medals should he win the 100m butterfly final and the United States win the 4x100m medley relay. Two more golds would be a fitting way to end Phelps's Olympic career. He won six golds and two bronze in Athens in 2004 and eight golds in Beijing in 2008. So far in London, he has won two golds and two silvers.
Just 20 minutes after his medley victory, Phelps backed up with a scintillating 100m butterfly semi-final to qualify fastest for the final on Friday night.
The individual medley was the last time Phelps would go head to head with rival Lochte and the pair joked before they got on the blocks that it was the last chance to win bragging rights. The pair have been locking horns at Olympic level since Athens.
For the majority of their racing history, Lochte has played second fiddle with Phelps as the main attraction. But Lochte - who turns 28 today - upstaged Phelps in the 400m individual medley in London and finished the 2012 Games with five medals.
"I said to him in the ready room that it was our last 200 [metres] of the meet and our last 200 together," Phelps said. "We were joking and laughing about it ... Ryan has probably been one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever had to swim against."
Lochte could be forgiven for being tired going into the individual medley. He had an intense race in the 200m backstroke final, where he had to settle for third place behind countryman Tyler Clary. Lochte immediately warmed down before preparing for his battle with Phelps.
"I’m done. I’m happy ... it was definitely hard, but that’s what I’ve been training for the past four years," Lochte said. "Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t, but overall I can’t be too disappointed. I am coming home to my country with five Olympic medals and that’s something to be proud of. It’s Michael Phelps, he’s one of the greatest racers ever. I love racing against him, it’s fun.’’
Meanwhile, Australian Mitch Larkin finished eighth in the 200m backstroke final and said he put too much pressure on himself going into the medal race.