Message Sent: 21 and Counting for Michael Phelps

Message Sent: 21 and Counting for Michael Phelps

RIO DE JANEIRO — Michael Phelps won a gold medal on Tuesday night, which is almost ordinary by now. It was his 20th Olympic gold.

His post-race performance, however, was something different.

After winning the 200-meter butterfly — his signature event — for the third time, Phelps stood triumphant in the pool, gesturing with bravado. He was stone-faced and silent, but his motions loudly said, “I’ll take all comers.”

To top it off, he added his 21st gold medal soon after, anchoring the 4×200 freestyle relay. Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte swam the first three legs.

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Phelps’s celebration after the 200 butterfly was loaded with meaning. This was the event in which Phelps endured one of the most painful defeats of his career: At the 2012 London Games, Chad le Clos of South Africa edged him by five-hundredths of a second.

Le Clos was in the lane next to Phelps on Tuesday night, one of five swimmers in the race who had at one time or another claimed Phelps as their childhood hero.

“Chad liked me, and then he didn’t like me,” Phelps said recently with a laugh. “He said I was his hero, and then he was calling me out.”

Phelps was the magnet that pulled the next generation into the sport, but at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on Tuesday night he repelled their challenge. Phelps clocked a time of 1 minute 53.36 seconds.

Doug Mills/The New York Times
Doug Mills/The New York Times

Tamas Kenderesi, 19, of Hungary, had turned the tables on Phelps in the semifinals, passing him over the last 25 meters of their semifinal heat to beat him by 16 hundredths of a second. But the story was different in the final.

Masato Sakai of Japan was the surprise silver medalist and Kenderesi was third. Le Clos finished fourth.

Phelps exulted after his victory, wagging his finger, raising his arms and orchestrating the crowd’s response.

Doug Mills/The New York Times
Doug Mills/The New York Times

Phelps has owned the world record since 2001, lowering it eight times, most recently in 2009 during the tail end of the buoyant suit era. When he took the mark from another American, Tom Malchow, in March of 2001, the top qualifier for the final, Kenderesi of Hungary, was four years old and a year away from his first swim lesson.

Phelps did not address the media after the race because he still had unfinished business. Roughly 70 minutes after finishing the butterfly, he swam in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. The Americans took the lead by the end of the first leg, and by the time Phelps got into the pool, the race had turned into another coronation for him. His teammates cheered him wildly as he touched the wall. Britain was second and Japan third.

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The relay was held 22 minutes before midnight local time, which was another aspect of Phelps’s legacy. He turned swimming into a made for prime time event in America.

MEN’S 200M BUTTERFLY
50M 100M 150M FINAL
Gold UNITED STATES Michael Phelps 24.85 53.35 1:22.68 1:53.36
Silver JAPAN Masato Sakai 25.37 54.35 1:23.73 1:53.40
Bronze HUNGARY Tamas Kenderesi 25.42 54.18 1:23.61 1:53.62
4 SOUTH AFRICA Chad Guy Bertrand le Clos  25.06 53.87 1:23.35 1:54.06
MEN’S 4 X 200M FREESTYLE RELAY
200M 400M 600M 800M
Gold United States Conor Dwyer1: 45.23 Francis Haas 3:29.37 Ryan Lochte 5:15.40 Michael Phelps 7:00.66
Silver Britain Stephen Milne1: 46.97 Duncan Scott 3:32.02 Dan Wallace 5:18.28 James Guy 7:03.13
Bronze Japan Kosuke Hagino1: 45.34 Gaito Ehara 3:31.45 Yuki Koori 5:17.16 Takeshi Matsuda 7:03.50
4 Australia Thomas Fraser-Holmes 1:45.81 David McKeon 3:31.44 Daniel Smith 5:18.81 Mack Horton 7:04.18

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