The 200-meter individual medley field was chasing Michael Phelps, who was trying with every freestyle stroke to pass Leonidas of Rhodes.
Leonidas won 12 individual events over four Olympics. At 36, five years older than Phelps, he won his last three golds in 152 B.C., in footraces of about 200 and 400 meters and in a shield-carrying race.
It was not easy, but Phelps surpassed Leonidas, winning his 13th individual gold (and 22nd gold overall and 26th medal). With the victory, Phelps also joined track and field Olympians Al Oerter and Carl Lewis as the only Americans to win an individual event four times.
Phelps was timed in 1 minute 54.66 seconds. His teammate Ryan Lochte, who has spent most of his career in Phelps’ wake, finished fifth, behind Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and China’s Wang Shun. Phelps had no time to relish his result; he had to return to the pool roughly 30 minutes later for the semifinals of the 100 butterfly, the other event where he is the three-time defending champion.
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After homegrown swimmers like Thiago Pereira in the IM, the partisan crowds at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium have reserved their second most-raucous cheers for Phelps. He may be an honorary Brazilian but he is forevermore a Baltimorean. The city that raised and shaped Phelps paid its own tribute to its native son on Thursday by showing his IM race on the jumbo video screen at M&T Bank Stadium during the second half of the Baltimore Ravens’ preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
It was fitting that the Ravens’ opponent was the Panthers. In the lead-up to his fourth Olympics, Lochte trained in Charlotte. With the exception of Phelps’ longtime coach, Bob Bowman, perhaps no one has pushed him harder than Lochte, who has battled him for 12 years in the 200 and 400 IM. In the shorter race, their rivalry has produced 10 world records and the 15 all-time fastest performances.
“Probably one of the biggest competitors I call a competitor,” Phelps said of Lochte. “Him and I have literally duked it out back and forth and back and forth. This is a special one for both of us.”
In the IM gold-medal count, Phelps holds a 5-1 edge (Lochte won the 400 IM in 2012). If anyone knows what it is like to be Phil Mickelson in the Tiger Woods era, it is Lochte. On Tuesday, he won his 12th Olympic medal in what should have been a headline-hogging accomplishment. After all, only one man in swimming has won more.
Too bad that man is Phelps. Lochte will go down as always the bridegroom, never the gold medalist, in the 200 IM.