POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 03, 2012
LONDON » 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 got 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, 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 powered to the wall, his mom Debbie screamed, "Go! Go! Go!" When Phelps touched first, she dropped her head, kissed her two daughters -- both former swimmers -- and let the tears flow.
When Phelps stepped on the medal podium his eyes were glassy and he whispered a joke to Lochte, trying to keep the moment light. Then, staring up at the U.S. flag while the national anthem played, Phelps bit his lip and seemed to be struggling to hold back his own 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, he's starting to look as human out of the water as he seems 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 4x200 freestyle relay. "It's pretty special and something that I'm very happy for."
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He's now won two golds and two silvers in five races -- not the eight golds in China, but a more-than-fitting capper to a brilliant career that still has two more races to go: the 100 butterfly today and the 4x100 medley relay Saturday.
Lochte settled for silver in 1:54.90, having split with Phelps in their two head-to-head races in London.
"Ryan and I have had a lot of great races," Phelps said. "He has brought the best out of me many times."
When Phelps was done, 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 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."
American Rebecca Soni made quite a splash, too, on a night dominated by the Phelps-Lochte showdown.
Tearing through the water in her favorite pink suit, Soni set her second world record in as many days to defend her Olympic title in the 200 breaststroke. She finished in 2:19.59, breaking her own mark of 2:20.00 set in the semifinals.
Soni broke into a big smile when she saw the time, racing the clock more than she was anyone in the water. Japan's Satomi Suzuki took silver, more than a second behind at 2:20.72, while Russia's Yulia Efimova claimed bronze in 2:20.92.
"I'm so happy," Soni said. "I can't believe I did it."
Ranomi Kromowidjojo carried on the Dutch tradition of producing top sprinters and prevented a red, white and blue sweep of the night, taking the 100 freestyle in an Olympic-record 53.00.
Former UH swimmer Melanie Schlanger finished fourth for Australia in 53.47.
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.
While Lochte couldn't hold on in the backstroke, it was still quite a night for the U.S. Tyler Clary rallied on the final lap to pull off the upset in an Olympic-record 1:53.41. Japan's Ryosuke Irie also got by Lochte on the final stroke, taking silver in 1:53.78. Lochte's time was 1:53.94.
"You always have big dreams in your head that you think you might be able to pull off something like that," Clary said. "The fact that it just came to fruition is something that hasn't even processed in my mind yet. The fact that I'm now an Olympic champion and Olympic-record holder is something that is very humbling."