Triple Makes The Greatest Greater Still
Aug 2, 2012 - Craig Lord
Olympic Games, London, Day 6 finals:
Men's 200m medley:
The greatest of greats just got greater still: Michael Phelps, denied in the 400IM, denied in his signature 200m butterfly, down - but not out. Not the nature of the man, not the nature of his honing by Bob Bowman.
Aussie Dawn Fraser, up in the stands, and Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi have a boy in their club at last: Phelps took the 200m medley crown for the third time in 1:54.27, his orbit so far out in sporting space Elton John might want to add a verse to Rocket Man as an ode to those for whom solitary is something to celebrate.
What a glorious view he must have from up there: 16 gold medals at the helm of 20 medals overall, the first figure 7 beyond next best, the second 2 beyond next best - and counting.
The silver went to Ryan Lochte (USA) in 1:54.90, an effort that delivered gold for courage and taking on a challenge that just the vast bulk of swimmer in the whole of history would have never been able to contemplate. The bronze went to Laszlo Cseh (HUN), the second American and the first Hungarian home swapping places four years on from Beijing.
Lochte walked out in his green boots to lane four Michael Phelps had taken to lane 3 and before Cseh strolled to lane 5. The stage set for the final showdown of the greatest all-rounders of all-time.
Pity Lochte a little - world record holder and world champion, he had a monumental task here at these Games and on this day in particular, the paired programme brutal for a man at the very peak of condition, crucifying if you're anything but at your very best you ever were. Lochte was not.
Phelps made his intention known down the first length in 24.63, Lochte on 24.79, Cseh on 25.03. Phelps the unleashed the potential he always had as a title-challenging backstroke ace (but never had the opportunity to show it because of the way programmes fell). He turned at the half-way in 53.26, to Lochte's 53.89, Cseh on 54.85 in fifth, the three podium placers of Beijing were kept company by Thiago Pereira (BRA), on 53.59 in second, Britain's James Goddard fourth in 54.23.
On breaststroke, Phelps refused to yield, Lochte trying to claw his way back into contention for gold, Cseh making the best headway, the cards stacked up at the last turn in the defending champion's favour: 1:26.59, 1:27.29 for Pereira, 1:27.37 for Lochte and 1:27.96 for Cseh.
Given the week (the four years) Phelps has had, perhaps his legs might not carry him. No way. Not this time. This time he was determined to bring it home. Summoning the strength in every sinew he has chiselled since he was 12, Phelps, North Baltimore's Biggest Bullet dug deep and nailed the triple in 1:54.27.
Lochte tweeted earlier this week - aim for the moon because if you fail you'll end up a star. And what a star he was. The weight of the week and a bruising 200m backstroke serving like a weight belt to his ambitions, the Florida Gator fought fate itself to get back to Phelps.
He simple could not do it today, his last lap split of 27.53 the best in the field, Phelps on 27.68, Cseh on 28.26, that sweeping his past Pereira, locked out in 1:56.74. The final was the first in Olympic history to see all eight men race inside 2 minutes.
It also saw the United States strike out alone on gold count at the top of the all-time medals table for the 200m medley since the event made the schedule in 1968: in Beijing, by keeping Cseh at bay, Phelps drew the US level with Hungary at three golds each, the American granting his nation its fourth gold ever. Three of them are his, the other belonging to Charles Hickcox, champion of the inaugural 1968 final and winner of three golds that year.
Phelps wore the same style of green boots as Lochte on the podium, had a tear in his eye as the Star Spangled Banner rang out, flags fluttering alongside hand-painted sheets strewn with the words "The Greatest of The Great".
How true. Phelps then got bck on his blocks and humped out another warning: 50.86 in the first semi of the 100m butterfly. A man getting better as the week draws on - and gets tougher.
Litte wonder you know who's been in touch. '"The President of the United States called me yesterday. It was pretty cool," said Phelps. "Someone called me up and asked me to hold as they had the President waiting to speak to me. He told me that everyone is supporting me. It was very special and he said to say hi to my mum!"
Fastest field: London 2012 - 1:54.27 - 1:59.10
To qualify for the final it took: