Michael Phelps won his third straight gold medal in the 200-meter individual medley -- unprecedented, to be certain -- and did it in 1:54.27. He beat out Ryan Lochte, who touched for silver in 1:54.90.
"To be able to win the gold medal and be the first to threepeat, it means something," Phelps said. "It's pretty special and something that I'm very happy for."
This was the big race, the one Lochte needed to win to even be considered in the same conversation as Phelps (eventually) for maybe being best ever, or hell, even best at these Games. But it's not going to happen. Phelps' 20th medal (now an even, unprecedented benchmark in Olympics history) is among his most special, most impressive and most dominant. The man never trailed beyond the first 50 meters of the race and looked very much the swimmer we were awestruck by in China four years ago.
Lochte, who entered onto the block still wet from his surprising bronze in the 200-meter backstroke, appeared beaten before the race began. Easy to say afterward, sure, but how could that result not factor in here? It was a duping loss for Lochte to Tyler Clary in that 200 back, and now to go against Phelps so soon? Daunting.
Phelps lead Lochte by .16 after the butterfly/first turn of the medley. At the halfway point, following the backstroke, Phelps led still and was ahead of world-record pace. Lochte dropped to .63 behind Phelps halfway through the race, and was in fact third at that point.
"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."
Laszlo Cseh, of Hungary, took bronze with a touch time of 1:56.22. He was just about two seconds behind Phelps' cruise. What a race.
For me, Phelps' win here feels a bit like Jordan's double-nickle against the Knicks when he came back to the NBA. Everyone knew he still had it, but it was still surprising and glorious to witness. It's evidence validating the decision to do this again. It's greatness more than peeking its head out one last time; it's exposing its chest and slamming its feet on the terra -- or in the water, as it were.
"Going into every call room, I said it's my last semifinal or my last prelim," Phelps said. "We're kind of chalking up all the lasts of certain things."
This race, the 200-meter IM, essentially makes Phelps' London appearance about as memorable as Beijing, which seems incredible. He was never going to equal or better eight golds in eight races with seven world records, as we saw in '08, but setting the all-time mark plus beating Lochte in the 200 IM is about as terrific as Phelps could have hoped for. And the fashion he did it in makes it even more outstanding. This race was his from beginning to end. He's owned it for eight years and three Olympiads now. His mark -- that unceasing splash -- has left an indelible groove in the pool for generations ahead.