Message Sent: 21 and
Counting for Michael Phelps
RIO DE JANEIRO — Michael Phelps won a gold medal on Tuesday night, which is almost ordinary by now. It was his 20th Olympic gold.
His post-race performance, however, was something different.
After winning the 200-meter butterfly — his signature event — for the third time, Phelps stood triumphant in the pool, gesturing with bravado. He was stone-faced and silent, but his motions loudly said, “I’ll take all comers.”
“I was pretty fired up after that race,” Phelps said, adding, “I didn’t say anything to anybody else, but there wasn’t a shot in hell I was losing that tonight.”
To top it off, he added his 21st gold medal soon after, anchoring the 4x200 freestyle relay. Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte swam the first three legs.
Phelps’s celebration after the 200 butterfly was loaded with meaning. This was the event in which Phelps endured one of the most painful defeats of his career: At the 2012 London Games, Chad le Clos of South Africa edged him by five-hundredths of a second.
Le Clos was in the lane next to Phelps on Tuesday night, one of five swimmers in the race who had at one time or another claimed Phelps as their childhood hero.
“Chad liked me, and then he didn’t like me,” Phelps said recently with a laugh. “He said I was his hero, and then he was calling me out.”
Phelps was the magnet that pulled the next generation into the sport, but at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Tuesday night he repelled their challenge. Phelps clocked a time of 1 minute 53.36 seconds.
Tamas Kenderesi, 19, of Hungary, had turned the tables on Phelps in the semifinals, passing him over the last 25 meters of their semifinal heat to beat him by 16 hundredths of a second. But the story was different in the final.
Masato Sakai of Japan was the surprise silver medalist and Kenderesi was third. Le Clos finished fourth.
Phelps exulted after his victory, wagging his finger, raising his arms and orchestrating the crowd’s response.
On the medals stand, Phelps grew teary. Then, during the playing of the national anthem, one of his friends from Baltimore in the stands shouted out the “Oh” as if he were at Camden Yards before the start of an Orioles game. “I heard that, I knew exactly who it was,” Phelps said. “I instantly looked right over. I could not stop laughing.”
To win the 200 fly in his fifth Olympics, 16 years after he finished fifth in the event in his Olympics debut was sublime, Phelps said. “Couldn’t have scripted it any better,” he said.
Phelps has owned the world record since 2001, lowering it eight times, most recently in 2009 during the tail end of the buoyant suit era. When he took the mark from another American, Tom Malchow, in March of 2001, the top qualifier for the final, Kenderesi of Hungary, was four years old and a year away from his first swim lesson.
Phelps did not address the media after the race because he still had unfinished business. Roughly 70 minutes after finishing the butterfly, he swam in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. The Americans took the lead by the end of the first leg, and by the time Phelps got into the pool, the race had turned into another coronation for him. His teammates cheered him wildly as he touched the wall. Britain was second and Japan third.
The relay was held 22 minutes before midnight local time, which was another aspect of Phelps’s legacy. He turned swimming into a made for prime time event in America.
Men’s 200m Butterfly