Michael Phelps delivered one more history-making Olympic performance on Thursday, winning the 200m medley to become the first man to win the same individual swimming event at three straight Games.
Phelps, already denied trebles in London in the 400m medley and 200m butterfly, delivered a vintage performance to win in 1 minute, 54.27 seconds and collect his 20th career Olympic medal — and his 16th gold.
“The three-peat was hard,” Phelps said. “I knew it would be a cool thing to do and add to the resume to be the first guy to do it, it hurt.”
He subdued his great rival — teammate Ryan Lochte — who settled for silver in 1:54.90.
Hungarian Laszlo Cseh earned bronze in 1:56.22.
Although it was his first individual gold of the Games, there was no fist-pumping celebration from Phelps, but instead a smile of quiet satisfaction as his mother and sister cheered from the stands.
On the podium, he accepted his medal with another smile, then heaved a huge sigh as the crowd roared. As the anthem played he pressed his lips together, trying to control his emotions.
“On the podium, I tried to compose myself as much as I could,” said Phelps, who still had the semi-finals of the 100m fly coming up. “I was hurting too, I was in a lot of pain. My legs were hurting and I had to lean against something before they gave out.”
Even so, Phelps was happy to find himself on the so-familiar top step of the podium.
“It is a relief to win an individual gold,” he said. “I fell short in the first couple of events, it is cool to do something no other male swimmer has done.”
In London, the 27-year-old American has been far from the dominant figure who captured an unprecedented eight gold medals in Beijing, but his fourth and final Olympics has seen him further cement his legacy by seizing the record for most medals in a career and becoming the first man to complete a golden swimming treble.
From 4pm, Taiwan’s Lin Yi-chun goes for a gold medal in the women’s trap competition.
From 7:30pm, Usain Bolt begins his campaign to defend the 100m title.
From 9:15pm, the women’s singles gold medal match.
Australian icon Dawn Fraser and Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi both accomplished the feat in women’s events.
The 200m medley was among the six gold medals he won in Athens in 2004 and he gave himself a chance at another treble as he returned to post the fastest time in the 100m butterfly heats.
The medley defeat for Lochte was a bitter blow in an event in which he is the world record-holder and world champion. It came quickly on the heels of his bronze medal performance in the 200m backstroke, in which he was the defending Olympic champion.
Tyler Clary of the US, swimming in his first Olympics after failing to make the team in 2008, ran Lochte down in the last 25m to seize gold in an Olympic record of 1:53.41.
Japan’s Ryosuke Irie also steamed past Lochte to take the silver in 1:53.78, 0.16 seconds in front of Lochte’s 1:53.94.
“The fact I am now the Olympic champion and Olympic record holder is something that is very humbling,” said Clary, who has toiled for years in the shadow of Phelps and Lochte. “I stuck to my guns, kept my stroke on and was able to come by those last two on the last 15 meters and get my hand on the wall.”
“That was a perfect race I swam tonight,” said Clary, who was already looking forward to Rio de Janeiro in four years’ time.
Rebecca Soni of the US provided a suitable curtain-raiser to the drama of the Phelps-Lochte duel as she became the first woman to break 2:20 in the women’s 200m breaststroke.