By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties | Tuesday, August 9, 2016
RIO DE JANEIRO – The Olympic finals of the men’s 200m butterfly.
This is where it all started for Michael Phelps 16 years ago. Back then, he was a wide-eyed 15-year-old competing in his first Olympic finals in Sydney.He finished fifth, one of just a handful of swimmers on the Sydney team who did not medal at those Games.
Fast-forward 16 years. He’s now the greatest swimmer – and the greatest Olympic athlete – of all time, with 23 medals and counting over the course of his legendary career. Nineteen gold, two silver and two bronze.
Make that 24 medals. And 20 gold.
No wait, 25 medals. And 21 gold. But we’ll get to that later.
Phelps won his 20th career Olympic gold medal Tuesday in the 200m butterfly, turning in a time of 1:53.36. Sakai Masato of Japan took silver in 1:53.40, followed by Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary for bronze in 1:53.62.
The win marked Phelps’s third Olympic title in this event. He also won gold in the 200m fly in 2004 and 2008, and over the course of his career, this event had become his signature. His bread and butter. He was once considered unbeatable in it, until Chad le Clos of South Africa edged him for the gold in London.
Tonight he redeemed that loss, and this time around, le Clos wasn’t even on the medal stand. As he stepped up to the podium for the awards ceremony, Phelps became a little emotional.
“I was really just going through the last 16 years,” Phelps said. “That event was kind of like my bread and butter, and that was the last time I’ll ever swim it. Kind of having that come to an end, it’s crazy to think about.
“I didn’t say anything to anyone else, but there wasn’t a shot in hell I was losing that event. And if I did, every ounce that I had was left in the pool. I honestly didn’t know that I won by a couple hundredths until the awards ceremony, so just being able to see the No. 1 next to my name again, one more time in the 200 fly, you couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
The 200m fly was Phelps’s second gold medal of the meet. He also won gold in the 400m freestyle relay on day 2. Then it was on to gold No. 3.
Men's 800m Free Relay
Phelps – along with teammates Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte – followed his win in the 200 fly with another gold in the 800m free relay. The U.S. led from the first leg on, bolstered by Haas’s split of 1:44.14, which was the fastest of all 32 swimmers in the race.
The U.S. has now won this relay at four straight Olympic Games.
“We were pretty relaxed,” Dwyer said. “Michael again said, ‘Get me a lead, guys, I’m kind of tired. He did a tough double, so we wanted to do our part. Townley’s had some amazing 200 frees this year, and to split what he split is pretty incredible for a rookie. We’re really proud of him, and I think everyone did their part to get the gold.”
For those wondering about Phelps’s all-black cap, his ripped just before stepping up on the block, so he had to borrow Dwyer’s
“His cap ripped, and he said, ‘Diddy!,’” Dwyer said. “I turned around, and he didn’t have a cap, so I turned mine inside out and gave him my cap. He was a little rattled, but we’ve seen him go through so many ups and downs. We saw him win one without goggles in 2008, so I knew he’d be fine with a new cap”
Women's 200m Free
While Phelps says his legendary career is coming to a close after these Games, Katie Ledecky is just starting to build her legacy on the Olympic stage.
Ever since winning the Olympic title in the 800m free four years ago in London, Ledecky has won 15 golds in international competition, including the 400m freestyle here in Rio. She has also set a combined 12 world records in the 400m free, 800m free and 1500m free, counting the one she set the other night in the 400.
No world records for Ledecky on Tuesday, but the reigning world champion swam away with another gold in the 200m freestyle. Her time of 1:53.73 just missed the American record set by Allison Schmitt in London by 12-hundredths of a second.
Her swim marked the second straight Olympic title for the U.S. in this event, following Schmitt’s win in 2012.
It was the third medal for Ledecky in Rio. She also won gold in the 400m free and a silver in the 400m free relay. She still has two events left on her plate – the 800m free relay tomorrow and the 800m free Friday.
"That hurt pretty bad,” Ledecky said. “It's the closest I've come to throwing up at the end of a race. I was just glad to get my hand on the wall first. It was a stressful race, and I feel good now it's over. I took it out pretty fast and forced everyone, and once I was ahead, I was not going to let it out of my hands."
Women's 200m IM
Maya DiRado won her second medal of the meet Tuesday, this time a bronze in the women’s 200m IM. She won silver in the 400m IM on the first night of competition
Katinka Hosszu of Hungary won gold in an Olympic record time of 2:06.58, followed by Siobhan-Marie O’Connor in 2:06.88 and DiRdado in 2:08.79. American Melanie Margalis finished fourth in 2:09.21.
“The 200 IM is a little easier, a little more sprinty, and it was more relaxed, and (I was) enjoying the whole thing,” DiRado said. I'm not taking any medals for granted, and it's super fun to be on the podium again."
These will be DiRado’s first and last Olympic Games. After Rio, she and her husband plan to move to Atlanta, where she will begin her career as a business consultant. She has one more event left to swim, the 200m back on Friday.
“I think the (American) girls have medaled in every event so far,” DiRado said. “I didn't want to end that streak on my event, so I'm glad we got to continue that."
Of Note in the Semifinals
All those who were hitting the panic button after Nathan Adrian’s swim in this afternoon’s prelims of the men’s 100m freestyle needn’t worry.
Adrian went from being the last qualifier in tonight’s semifinals – which he made by a mere three-hundredth of a second – to the top qualifier for tomorrow night’s finals, turning in a time of 47.83. Teammate Caeleb Dressel qualified fifth in 47.97.
Halfway through the meet, the U.S. now leads all teams in the Olympic swimming competition with 18 medals – seven gold, four silver and seven bronze.
Think you have what it takes to become an Olympic legend like Michael Phelps or Katie Ledecky? Join USA Swimming. Find a team in your area at SwimToday.org.