Swimming day 6 – Phelps at his best continues to amaze the world!

London 2012 Swimming

If more records were needed to confirm the title of "Best Olympian in the history of the Games", Michael Phelps (USA) established one more on day 6 of the Swimming finals at the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 London Olympic Games. In the much expected men's 200m IM final, Phelps would attempt to become the first male swimmer to successfully defend his title at three consecutive Olympics in the same individual event. After his successes in 2004 and 2008, he triumphed once more, winning in 1:54.27. This is Phelps' 20th Olympic medal (including 16 golds)! Only two other swimmers have managed to win three individual titles in a row at Olympic level: Australia's Dawn Fraser - who was in the Aquatics Centre to cheer on Phelps' feat - in the women's 100m free between 1956 and 1964, and Krisztina Egerszegi (HUN), in the women's 200m backstroke, in 1988, 1992 and 1996. Phelps dominated the entire race and looked in a fresher condition than teammate Ryan Lochte, who had swum the 200m backstroke earlier in the evening. As it happens, Phelps became the first male swimmer of the 2012 Olympics to retain his 2008 title in an individual event.

On his rivalry with Lochte, Phelps admitted: "Ryan and I have had a lot of good races. Over the last four years, Ryan has made a lot of improvement, in and out of the pool. For me, it's going to be fun to be able to watch what these guys do over the next four years, where they continue to take the sport. We have had a fun career with one another, we do push each other. He has brought the best out of me many times." Commenting on his result, the greatest Olympian in history said: "Obviously it's a relief to win an individual gold, it's something pretty special. To be able to have the heat that we had all three of us, we shared the podium together and raced each other so many times that it is just cool to finish my career winning the 200 IM gold medal." Asked about his feelings on swimming his last competitive swim in London (Phelps will retire after these Games), he added: "Once it's over, it is really going to hit me emotionally, it is really emotional for my mother, she's watched my sisters go to the sport and retire, and she's going to watch me retire too. But after Sunday, there will be no more competitive swimming, I will be retired."

Lochte earned silver in 1:54.90 (far from his World Record of 1:54.00 set in Shanghai) while Hungary's Laszlo Cseh took the minor medal (repeating his ranking at the 2011 Worlds) in 1:56.22. The Magyar star is used to have Phelps in front of him, beaten for second on three occasions in Beijing (200m butterfly, 200m IM and 400m IM). The silver medallist in the 400m IM, Brazil's Thiago Pereira, seemed to be in a good position throughout the race to claim a podium spot but finished fourth.

At the press conference, Lochte admitted" "Going into every Olympics, I always feel like it's my time, I always think that I can win every time I go on the blocks. I had some ups and downs at these Olympics but for the most part, I'm pretty satisfied." "I wanted to get all golds in my events but it did not happen. I'm going to have to live with that, move on and learn from it. Try not to make the same mistakes in the next four years for Rio," he stated. On his last race with Michael Phelps: "Our rivalry has definitely helped out a lot, he is the toughest racer I ever had to deal with; we have been racing for 8 years now. The rivalry that we created has been tremendous for the sport. Hopefully, he'll still be around, I'm going to miss racing him." 

Phelps' compatriot Rebecca Soni (USA) achieved the same feat in the women's field. And the 25-year-old champion did it with a touch of excellence during the final of the 200m breaststroke, improving the World Record (2:20.00) she set in the semis on the previous day, touching home in 2:19.59. She is the first woman to swim this event under 2:20 (in 50m pool) and culminated after a four-year cycle where she took gold at the "Water Cube" in 2008, obtained the world title in 2011 and now the 2012 Olympic crown.

Until Soni's and Phelps' feats, none of the swimmers claiming a title in one of the 16 individual events during the first five days of competition had been Olympic champion four years ago in Beijing. New faces and rising stars are emerging on the international swimming stage. As for Soni, she definitely remains a solid asset in the women's 200m breaststroke. Despite a relatively slow start, she recovered quite quickly, taking the lead at half race. From that moment on, she kept on going, speeding up and racing for the win in the last 50m – this final effort allowed her to improve her own mark and to set the sixth World Record at these Games. Moreover, this is the fifth medal for Soni at the Olympics, following three successes in Beijing (gold in the 200m breast and silver in the 100m breast and 4x100m medley) and a silver medal (100m breast) in London.

credit: Giorgio Scala 

"The 200 is tricky because I feel like I have to take it out calmly and slowly, so it's not like the 100 where you just got it from the beginning, it's all about being fluent and getting through the water smoothly. If I try harder I don't go as fast. I did not really know I was on WR pace, I just wanted to finish strong, I saw I was ahead and I said, 'OK, WR last night, gold medal tonight', and it turned out to be a gold and a WR," declared Soni after her performance. On being the first female swimmer to successfully defend her title from Beijing: "It is a great feeling, I did not know that until after I finished, it means so much because it's been my goal since I started training again after Beijing, it's just such an honour to again be able to defend my title."

In a very fast race, Satomi Suzuki (JPN) earned the silver in a new Asian record of 2:20.72 while Yulia Efimova (RUS) also had to improve the European record to get the bronze (2:20.92). This was the second podium presence for Suzuki in London (after her bronze in the 100m breaststroke) while Efimova earns her first Olympic award (she was silver medallist in this event at the 2011 FINA World Championships).

Shortly after (and before the 200m IM race), Ryan Lochte (USA) also had a golden opportunity to successfully defend an individual Olympic title in London but his effort in the 200m backstroke was not as fruitful as Soni. Leading at the 50m, 100m and 150m marks, Lochte was not fast enough stay ahead of compatriot Tyler Clary (gold) and Japan's Ryosuke Irie (silver). Clary touched home in a new Olympic record of 1:53.41 (bettering the time set in Beijing by Lochte – 1:53.94), Irie clocked 1:53.78 while Lochte got the bronze in 1:53.94. It was the first Olympic medal for the 23-year-old American and the second for Irie, third at these Games in the 100m backstroke. Lochte collected his 10th Olympic award, after claiming gold in the 400m IM and 4x200m free, and silver in the 4x100m free here in London.

After the race, Clary said: "I was prepared for where I was at the 100 mark, I knew I needed to build in that last 25m, catch as much as I can, I was able to put my hand on the wall first, I had a pretty good sense that I was behind those guys at 150m and that it would take something extraordinary to get by them. It is an unreal feeling; I am so happy right now." "There is always somebody out there that is better, it's something that always keeps me calling for more, I have been taking second and third places for so long, it's tough sometimes but it also makes moments like these that much more sweet," he added.

In the last final of the day, Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) obtained her first individual Olympic medal, the gold in the 100m free, touching home in a new Olympic record of 53.00 (and improving her own time set in the semis, 53.05). The 21-year-old Dutch swimmer won gold in Beijing (4x100m free relay) and a silver in the same relay in London. At the 2011 FINA World Championships, she was third in this event, losing to Aliaksandra Herasimenia (BLR) and Jeanette Ottesen (DEN, winner in Shanghai). At the Aquatics Centre, the scenario was quite different: Herasimenia touched first at the 50m mark, but in the end, had to content with the silver (53.38) while Ottesen, second at half way, then downgraded to a modest seventh place (53.75). The bronze went to Yi Tang (CHN, 53.44), her first Olympic award. The two US swimmers could not medal in the final: Missy Franklin finished fifth and Jessica Hardy, eighth. Confirming the trend in London, Herasimenia's medal was the first in Olympic history for Belarus!

credit: Giorgio Scala 

In the semi-finals of the day, Cesar Cielo (BRA) and Cullen Jones (USA) were the fastest qualifiers for the decisive race in the men's 50m free (they both clocked 21.54) while Anthony Ervin (USA) was third in 21.62. If Cielo wins the final, he would complete a perfect four-year cycle after his triumph at the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 and 2011 FINA World Championships. James Magnussen from Australia was the surprise among the non-qualified swimmers, taking 11th. In the women's 200m backstroke, Elizabeth Beisel (USA) was the best in 2:06.18, followed by Missy Franklin (USA, 2:06.84) and Meagen Nay (AUS, 2:07.42). Eventually, after thrilling racing, Michael Phelps still had energy and necessary focus to take first in the men's 100m butterfly semis, touching home in 50.86. Should he win in London (as he did in Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008), Phelps would add another event to the list of that twice successfully defended by a male athlete in the history of the Games.