Michael Phelps, who was unbeatable four years ago in Beijing, was chased down in two swims here Tuesday night. With a little help from his friends, though, Phelps earned his record-setting 19th career Olympic medal, and it turned out to be the color most associated with his unprecedented career, gold.
Phelps, who won a record eight golds in China, had to settle for a silver in the 200-meter butterfly after being upset by Chad le Clos. The South African closed the tight race by catching Phelps at the wall and winning in 1 minute, 52.96 seconds.
"I was on the receiving end of getting touched out," said Phelps, who led most of the way and finished in 1:53.01.
After his dramatic victory, le Clos covered his head in amazement and said, "I just wanted to race Phelps in the final, and I've beaten him. I can't believe it."
With the loss, Phelps failed for the second time in these Games to become the first male swimmer to win the same event in three consecutive Olympics. The butterfly silver, however, put him in a dead heat for career Olympic medals with former Soviet Union gymnast Larisa Latynina. She amassed 18 medals in three Olympics from 1956 to 1964, before teenage pixies began their takeover of that sport.
Phelps, so used to carrying the hopes of the U.S. swimming team, then had a very unusual pep talk with his 800 freestyle relay teammates.
"I told those guys I wanted a big lead. You better get a big lead, and they gave it to me. I just wanted to hold on," Phelps said.
Phelps probably wasn't worried so much about his conditioning as French anchor Yannick Agnel, who crushed Ryan Lochte and his previously unsinkable confidence on the anchor leg of the 400 freestyle relay and then again in the 200 freestyle, in which Agnel won the gold.
"The past two days, I wasn't myself. After that relay, my confidence was down," Lochte said.
The sudden emergence of the towering Agnel, who's 6 feet, 8 inches tall, has caught almost everyone by surprise.
"I never heard of him until this week, and he's definitely going to be a name for sprinting and the 200 free," said U.S. swimmer Cullen Jones.
In the 800 freestyle relay, Lochte jumped to a lead. Conor Dwyer widened it, and then Texas ex Ricky Berens stretched it to almost four seconds over the French. Agnel swam the fastest leg of the night, 1:43.24, but Phelps clocked the second-fastest, 1:44.05, and then yelled in triumph, picking up his third medal and his first gold in London.
Phelps said he was too choked up to join in the singing of the national anthem after the relay, but added,
"It's a pretty cool feeling, and a good way to end the night."
After the race, he talked briefly with Agnel, telling him, "Your 200 free from yesterday is probably one of top-five swims of all time."
To writers he confided, "I'm glad I was not in that race ... those guys would have smoked me."
Phelps' North Baltimore teammate, Allison Schmitt, won the women's 200 freestyle gold in an Olympic record of 1:53.61.
China's Ye Shiwen, who won the women's 400 individual medley earlier in the meet, took the 200 IM in 2:07.57.
Zimbabwe star Kirsty Coventry, a former graduate assistant coach with the University of Texas swimming program, finished sixth.
Coventry, who lives and trains in Austin, won four medals in Beijing, but she has battled knee problems and pneumonia this year.
"I've gone through ups and downs," she said, "and unfortunately in an Olympic year, you can't have that. But I'm proud of myself for sticking here and trying to be as competitive as I can, and that's what I'm looking to do in the 200 back."
Former Longhorn swimmer Kathleen Hersey set herself up for a medal run today by posting the fastest time of her life in the 200 butterfly semifinals, 2:05.90.
Hersey, who finished a disappointing eighth in the Beijing Olympics, said, "I finally learned how to be relaxed and have fun with the race and not get too caught up in where we are, what this is and how often this happens, because it's so easy to do. But if you don't let yourself at least feel some of the emotion of the Olympics, you are missing out on so much of it."
Most Popular Stories
- SEO Traffic Lab Celebrate Wins at Digital Marketing Event 'Internet World 2013' in London
- Social Media Initiatives Should Follow Customers' Lead
- Apple CEO: Offshore Units Not a 'Tax Gimmick'
- U.S. Senate Accuses Apple of Large-scale Tax Avoidance
- UTEP Water Recycling Project Wins Venture Titles
- Marketo Makes a Mint in IPO: Stock Shoots Up More than 50 Percent
- Bieber Booed at Billboard Awards
- Crude Oil Up, Gasoline Down
- Austin Startup Compare Metrics Raises $3.5 Million for Expansion
- Why So Many Top 'Car Guys' Are Actually Women