RIO DE JANEIRO (TheBlaze/AP) — Michael Phelps was overcome with emotion Tuesday night when he won his 20th gold medal. When the night was over, the swimmer had earned 21 gold medals.
"That was probably one of my most challenging doubles," the 31-year-old Phelps said. "Doing a double like that is a lot harder than it once was."
Standing at the podium during the ceremony for his 20th gold medal, Phelps' joy and satisfaction seemed to reach an emotional crescendo as the "Star-Spangled Banner" rang out in the packed arena in Rio. Tears seemed nearly inevitable for the 31-year-old competitor, but his tearful expression turned to boisterous glee when the anthem reached its climax.
As the instrumental rendition reached the line, "Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there," one of his buddies from Baltimore cracked him up by shouting out "O" like they do at Camden Yards before Orioles' games. As soon as he heard the proclamation, a big smile shot across his face.
Phelps later explained the moment. He said, "Back in Maryland, we all say, 'O!'"
"Back in Maryland, we all say 'Oh!' " https://t.co/klqDwbzq8m— Dan Steinberg (@Dan Steinberg) 1470801623.0
During the customary stroll around the pool to pose for photographers, Phelps broke ranks and bounded into the stands to plant a kiss on Boomer, the son who symbolizes just how much Phelps' life has changed since a second drunken-driving arrest two years ago.
"I wanted to hold him longer," Phelps said. "It's good to see he's awake. He usually sleeps all the time."
Phelps held off Japan's Masato Sakai with a time of 1 minute, 53.36 seconds, but that number was of little concern.
The only thing that mattered was beating everyone else.
"The last 10 meters were not fun," Phelps said. "My gosh, I thought I was standing still."
Four years ago, Phelps mistimed his finish in the wind-milling stroke he does better than anyone, gliding to the wall a little too long after his final whirl of the arms. That allowed Chad le Clos of South Africa to stunningly win gold in an event that Phelps had dominated for the better part of a decade.
Deborah Phelps, Michael Phelps's fiancee Nicole Johnson and son Boomer attend the medal ceremony for the Men's 200m Butterfly Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
Phelps retired after the London Games, so it looked like he wouldn't get a chance to make up for his defeat. But when he decided about a year later to start competing again, the 200 fly was clearly the title he sought more than any other.
"This is the race I really wanted back," he said.
Le Clos was in the final again, thoroughly inspired himself by his mother and father, both battling cancer and in the stands cheering him on.
But the South African could only manage fourth this time, also finishing behind bronze medalist Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary.
The relay was much less dramatic.
Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte went out ahead of Phelps, handing off a commanding lead to the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.
Phelps essentially spent the next 100 seconds or so soaking up the cheers. He was only the third-fastest swimmer on his team, but he was a full body length ahead of Britain's James Guy when he touched in 7:00.66.
The British claimed silver in 7:03.13, while Japan took the bronze in 7:03.50.
Sure, Phelps hogged the spotlight on this night, but let's not forget two other very impressive swimmers.
Ledecky took the most challenging step toward a feat that's only been done one other time, holding off Sweden's Sarah Sjostrom to win the 200 freestyle and give the American star her second gold of the games.
Debbie Meyer is the only female swimmer to capture the three longest freestyle events at a single Olympics, winning the 200, 400 and 800 at the 1968 Mexico City Games. Ledecky looks like a lock to match Meyer, having already won the 200 and 400 titles and an overwhelming favorite in the 800, where she's the world-record holder and far faster than anyone else in the world.
Katinka Hosszu is having quite an Olympics, too.
The Hungarian known as the "Iron Lady" earned her third gold medal of the Rio Games with a victory in the 200 individual medley.
This has been an Olympics of redemption for Hosszu, a long-time star at the world championships who always seemed to come up short on the biggest stage.
Hosszu added to her wins in the 400 IM and 100 backstroke with a time of 2:06.58. Siobhan-Marie O'Connor of Britain challenged Hosszu all the way but had to settle for silver. Maya DiRado of the United States held on for the bronze.
For Phelps, another retirement looms.
This time, he can fade away with the gold he really wanted in the 200 fly.
"That event was kind of like my bread and butter," Phelps said. "That was the last time I'll ever swim it."
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