LONDON – The final duel in the London pool between poker buddies Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte ended with Phelps taking his first individual gold medal of these Games. His victory in the 200-meter individual medley also gave him an Olympic three-peat. Lochte earned the silver 63-hundredths of a second later and thus ended his third Olympics with five medals in six events.
“It was a hard race,” Lochte said of his 1:54.90 effort. “Right now I’m exhausted… but I’ll take it.”
Both men were doing double-duty Thursday night. Phelps, 27, admitted that the sequence of events might have given him an edge.
“I may have been lucky that Ryan had a 200 back 30 minutes beforehand,” he said.
After Lochte claimed bronze in that race behind teammate Tyler Clary and runner-up Irie Ryosuke of Japan, Lochte only had 15 minutes to prep for the 200 IM showdown. The interval was so brief that he cooled down in the adjacent diving pool.
Once the 200m IM was underway, Phelps had the lead at every turn, but when he touched the wall in 1:54.27, his time was four-hundredths of a second slower than his Olympic record in Beijing.
“Obviously, it’s a relief to win an individual gold,” Phelps said. (In his other individual events, he placed fourth in the 400 IM, and second in the 200 fly behind Chad le Clos of South Africa.) “It’s cool, I guess, to threepeat and do something no male has done in the sport,” he added.
Phelps’ lower lip quivered with emotion as he accepted the gold medal while trying to focus on his next race, the 100-meter butterfly semifinal that was scheduled to take place just moments later.
Despite his achy, lactic legs, Phelps earned the fastest time in the 100 fly semis and when he contests the final on Friday, it will mark the last individual event of his Olympic career. After that, the 20-time Olympic medalist’s exceptional run will conclude on Saturday with the 4 x 100 meter medley relay.
In contrast to Lochte who said he intends to compete in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Phelps is eager to hear the proverbial fat lady sing.
After that, he insisted, “No more competitive swimming. No masters’ races; none of that.”
ALSO: American Rebecca Soni lowered her day-old world record in the 200-meter breaststroke to become the first woman to swim the event under 2 minutes, 20 seconds. The scoreboard read 2:19:59, and Soni said, “I was scared to look. I was watching last night’s video [of my semifinal world record] and I was turning while touching the wall. Tonight I just wanted my hand on the wall.”
Tyler Clary took the gold in the 200-meter backstroke in 1:53:41 and broke Lochte’s Olympic record from the 2008 Beijing Games by .53 seconds. “It was complete redemption,” Clary said, “for the fact that Trials didn’t go the way I wanted [placing second to Lochte] and everything going on beyond that,” meaning the attention he received for saying he felt Phelps had gotten by on talent during the year they trained together post-Beijing. As for the gold medal: “I’m using this as a stepping stone for Rio. I’m on a climb, and I want more of this.” After the victory, Clary also pointed to the sky as if to thank his influential club coach, Kevin Perry, who died of cancer in 2008. “I’d like to think I made him proud,” he said.
Aimee Berg is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.