Michael Phelps grabbed the gold medal in the 200 individual medley for the fourth Olympics in a row Thursday night, decisively winning what may have been his last big international showdown with Ryan Lochte.
Lochte finished fifth in a disappointing showing that ended his Olympics. He said he didn’t know why he had not been better.
“Something happened,” Lochte said. “It just wasn’t there. I gave it my all. I guess it just wasn’t that good. ... But I gave it 110 percent. That’s all I can ask for.”
As for Phelps, he was magnificent yet again. What he has done in these Olympics is among the best Phelps has ever offered. The world records don’t come as frequently, but he never seems to lose when it really counts.
“I think the biggest thing for me through the meet so far is I’ve been able to kind of finish like I wanted to,” Phelps said. “I’ve been able to accomplish things I’ve just dreamed of.”
Lochte said the groin injury that had hampered at the U.S. Olympic Trials was not a factor and went out of his way to praise Phelps for the victory.
“I mean, it’s Michael,” said Lochte, who moved to Charlotte three years ago to train with SwimMAC Carolina. “Nothing surprises me anymore with that guy. He’s a phenom. It’s unbelievable. Anything he does in the sport of swimming he deserves it, because I know how hard he trains day in and day out. So I’m happy for him.”
Phelps and Lochte have dominated the 200 IM for a dozen years. The last 10 times the world record was lowered in the 200 IM it was either Phelps or Lochte who did it.
But Phelps, 31, has been unbeatable so far in these Olympics, and he had the magic touch again Thursday. He didn’t set a world record this time around, but he won convincingly. Japan’s Kosuke Hagino was second and China’s Wang Shun ended up third.
Phelps knew well that this was the fourth time in a row he had won this Olympic event, and he indicated that by waggling four fingers after he finished the race and saw the number “1” beside his name on the scoreboard yet again. Later, Phelps choked up during the national anthem.
“To win my fourth 200 IM in a row, I don’t even know how to put that into words,” said Phelps, who about 45 minutes after winning the event dove back into the Olympic pool and qualified for the 100 butterfly final that will be held Friday night. “This has been a very, very special week for me so far.”
Lochte was first after 100 meters and third after 150. But he faded in the freestyle leg during the final 50 and finished more than 2.5 seconds behind Phelps.
It was a tough ending for Lochte – who moved to Charlotte three years ago to join SwimMAC Carolina’s Team Elite – but it was not a surprise that he lost to Phelps.
In this grueling event that tests a swimmer’s versatility and strength, Lochte had finished either second or third to Phelps in this event every Olympic year since 2004. This time he finished out of the medals entirely, meaning that he ended these Olympics with one medal – a gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay in which he teamed with Phelps.
Phelps continued to add to his records with his 22nd Olympic gold medal and 26th medal overall. He called his totals “insane” and “mind-blowing” earlier in the meet, and they are only getting more so.
“It’s been a hell of a career,” Phelps said.
In almost any other era, Lochte would have been considered the best swimmer of his generation. But over the past four Olympic cycles, Phelps has been golden and Lochte – just like his current hair color – has been silver.
Lochte said he didn’t regret swimming in the same era as Phelps, however.
“No, I don’t really think of that,” Lochte said. “I mean, I probably wouldn’t be the swimmer I am today if it wasn’t for him, because we bring the best out of each other. He helps push me, and I help push him.”
While Phelps has again insisted these are his last Olympics, Lochte has made no such promise (nor has he said whether he will continue to live in Charlotte after these Olympics conclude).
Lochte has also said all along that he believes Phelps will return for the 2020 Tokyo Games, when Phelps would be 35 and Lochte – if he sticks around – would be 36.