LONDON – Michael Phelps collected his unprecedented third straight Olympic 200-meter individual medley gold medal on Thursday night at the Aquatics Centre.
No male swimmer had ever done that until Thursday, including Kosuke Kitajima, whose bid fell short in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke races in London. But like every other swimming record, that one, too, seemed destined to be shattered by Phelps.
With the crowd cheering wildly for him two days after he won his record-breaking 19th medal to ascend to the top of the all-time medal charts, Phelps completed the race in 1 minute, 54.27 seconds.
Ho-hum, medal No. 20.
American rival Ryan Lochte grabbed the silver in 1:54.90, and ended his 2012 London Games with five medals (two gold, two silver and a bronze). Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh placed third in 1:56.22.
Japan earned two silver on the night: Satomi Suzuki (women’s 200 breaststroke) and Ryosuke Irie (men’s 200 backstroke). Both had previously received bronze medals in the 100-meter versions of their Thursday races.
Through Thursday, all Japanese Olympians had amassed 19 medals, with swimmers collecting nine of those (two silver and seven bronze).
But the night belonged to Phelps. After winning a record eight gold medals in Beijing four years ago, more than a few casual observers and experts alike had suggested that Phelps was unbeatable, but his fourth-place finish in the 400 IM earlier in the meet changed the tone of the conversation — even a little bit.
“I’ve been a little bit short in a couple (of races) already,” Phelps said, analyzing the 200 IM.
He said he expected Lochte, who placed third in the 200 backstroke around 30 minutes earlier, to be a bona-fide challenger regardless of prior races that night.
“I kind of just wanted to push the first 100 as much as I could just to kind of see what would happen,” Phelps said.
“If someone told me with 25 (meters) to go I was under world-record pace, it’s kind of frustrating to be a little short, but to be able to win the gold medal and repeat three times is something pretty special.”
Also Thursday, Tyler Clary of the United States won the men’s 200 backstroke in 1:53.41, a new Olympic best, followed by Irie (1:53.78) and Lochte, who turns 28 on Friday.
Said Lochte: “Right now I’m exhausted, but I’ve been training for four years now.”
After his race, Irie reacted by saying, “I wanted to see ‘first’ but I couldn’t, so I feel sorry. I gave 100 percent so I am satisfied with my performance.
“I would like to achieve first next time. That’s my future aim.”
Clary paid tribute to a former mentor after the gold medal was placed around his neck.
“The first thing that went through my mind after the initial shock of seeing my name first was thinking about my late coach Kevin Perry. He was my coach through high school and easily the influence that got me where I am today and he’s definitely looking down at me and smiling right now.”
In the evening’s first final, Team USA’s Rebecca Soni won the women’s 200 breaststroke in 2:19.59, becoming the first woman to swim it under 2:20, and shattering her own world record (2:20) set in Wednesday’s qualifying. Suzuki collected her second medal of the meet by placing second in 2:20.72, a Japanese and Asian record.
Suzuki swam a smart, consistent race, and stayed close throughout, but could not overtake Soni at the end. Suzaan van Biljon of South Africa earned the bronze.
“I’m so sorry I came second,” said Suzuki,” but I could get close to the swimmer I respected (Soni). I enjoyed that.”
Better fitness in recent months has been instrumental to Suzuki’s success in the British capital.
“Last year I lost (some) weight and I got more stamina. That was good for me,” she said.