His long arms whipping through the water, Phelps was next-to-last when he touched the wall at the far end of the pool in the 100-metre butterfly but in a familiar position when he made the touch that counted yesterday – his name atop the leaderboard, a smile on his face, a gold medal around his neck.
“I’m just happy that the last one was a win,” Phelps said. “That’s all I really wanted coming into the night.”
He claimed his third gold of the London Games and 17th of his career, adding to an already absurd record total that should be twice as much as anyone else by the time he swims the final race of his career, the 4x100m medley relay tonight.
The Americans are huge favourites in a race they have never lost, and it’s unfathomable to think the Phelps era could end with anything less than gold.
No-one has dominated like Phelps, who increased his career overall medal total to 21. “He’s the king of the Olympic Games,” said his butterfly rival, Serbia’s Milorad Cavic.
Even though Phelps didn’t go as fast in the final as he did in the semi-finals, he won by a comfortable margin compared to his two previous Olympic wins in the 100m fly – by four-hundredths of a second over Ian Crocker in 2004, then by one-hundredth of a second, the closest race possible, against Cavic at the Beijing Games four years ago. That was the victory that kept Phelps on course to win a historic eight gold medals in China. This was about going out in style.
Phelps touched in 51.21 secs to beat the man who edged him in the 200m fly, Chad le Clos. The South African touched in 51.44, tying for silver with Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin. Cavic tied for fourth in 51.81, not even close to Phelps in their final meeting. “I cannot be compared to Michael Phelps,” said Cavic, who also plans to retire after the London Games. “I’m a one-trick pony.”
France won its fourth gold at the pool, its best showing ever, as Florent Manaudou, younger brother of 2004 gold medalist Laure Manaudou, shocked defending Olympic champion and world-record holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil in the 50m freestyle. Cullen Jones of the USA took silver in 21.54, while Cielo was left with bronze in 21.59.