A London Olympics that started with a whimper for Michael Phelps has been a big bang ever since, including Thursday, when he increased his most medals record to 20 by besting American rival Ryan Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley.
Lochte said these Games were “my time” after he opened by winning the gold medal in the 400 individual medley. He also said Phelps, who finished fourth in that event, would come back more determined than ever.
Lochte was wrong about the first, right about the second.
Phelps earned his 16th gold medal by handled the field in a time of 1 minute, 54.27 seconds, just off his winning time in Beijing. The silver went to Lochte and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh took the bronze.
So his final Olympics that looked bleak at the start look golden now. He was not as dominant as he was four years ago in Beijing. But his medal count this year rests at two golds and two silvers in five races – and he still has two more events to go.
In fact, as soon as Phelps finished off Lochte, he hopped out of the pool and headed to the nearby diving well to warm down, knowing he still had a semifinal of the 100 butterfly before the night was done.
Lochte had gone through the same routine just a few minutes earlier, trying to pull off an impressive double 31 minutes apart. He came up short in both races, fading to bronze in the 200 backstroke behind fellow American Tyler Clary, then touching after Phelps in the medley.
Phelps’ reaction wasn’t a water-pounding celebration, just look of relief. He seemed to be soaking it all in, relishing a gold of his own in London with his previous victory coming in the 4×200 freestyle relay.
Lochte shook hands with his rival before crawling out of the pool for the last time at these Games. In a symbolic gesture, he tossed his cap and goggles into the crowd, his work done. His final tally: two golds, two silvers, one bronze and a fourth-place finish — impressive, but undoubtedly shy of what he had predicted would be “my time.”