RIO DE JANEIRO – Michael Phelps regained his Olympic 200-meter butterfly title Tuesday night by beating the man who took it away from him four years earlier.
In a stirring stretch duel, Phelps dusted South African Chad le Clos to take the gold medal in an event he’d won in 2004 and ’08 before being upset in ’12. Le Clos caught Phelps at the very end in London, beating him to the wall by .05 seconds. This time around, Phelps got the victory in 1:53.36, well off his own world record of 1:51.51 set in 2009.
Phelps barely held off Japan’s Masato Sakai, who won silver in 1:53.40. Hungary’s Tamas Kenderesi took the bronze at 1:53.62 while le Clos finished fourth in 1:54.06.
Phelps and Le Clos have sparred verbally in recent years, and their rivalry took on an added layer before the semifinals Monday night. NBC’s ready-room camera showed a very animated Le Clos shadow boxing, while a hooded Phelps sat stoically nearby. Phelps’ face betrayed some displeasure with Le Clos’ antics, a development that quickly became an Internet meme.
The victory gives Phelps two gold medals in two swims in Rio and pushes his record total to 20. He now has 24 overall medals, also an Olympic record.
He still has four events remaining in his swan song Olympics: the 800 freestyle relay on Tuesday; the 200 individual medley Wednesday and Thursday; the 100 butterfly Thursday and Friday; and a leg on the U.S. medley relay Saturday. By the time he is done, Phelps could put a mind-boggling 28 lifetime medals and 24 golds in the trophy case.