Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, earned his 20th Olympic gold medal and 24th overall medal Tuesday night in his pet event, the 200m butterfly.
He raced it as his only event in 2000, finishing fifth in Sydney, and won back-to-back Olympic crowns in 2004 and 2008, before taking silver behind Chad le Clos of South Africa at the 2012 London Olympics. The pair hadn’t raced each other in a major championship final since those 2012 Games, and the tension nearly bubbled over in the call room of the semifinal.
Phelps celebrated his victory Tuesday with a “come on” gesture and a now-famous finger wag, hyping up the crowd by sitting on the lane line.
Phelps’ time of one minute, 53.36 seconds was off his 1:51.51 world record set at the 2009 World Championships, in the height of the rubberized supersuit era. It didn’t matter, though.
"This is a race I really wanted tonight," Phelps said through USA Swimming. "I really wanted that one bad. There are a couple of things going into the finish I just said if I have to take a half stroke, I’m taking a half stroke and when I took that half stroke I thought that was the same thing like I thought in ’08. I thought that cost me the race, that won me the race. I don’t care about the time. I was just happy I was able to win. Doing a double like that [with the relay, later in the night] is a lot harder now than what it once was. That is for sure. Even with an hour, that was a challenging one tonight."
Phelps out-touched Masato Sakai, who raced to a silver medal, by 0.04 seconds. It marked the smallest margin of victory in this race in Olympic history.
Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary was third and le Clos finished fourth with a time of 1:54.06.