Olympic Swimming 2012: Michael Phelps Race-by-Race Review of Final Games
Michael Phelps came into the 2012 Olympic Games in London needing just three overall medals to become the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Phelps had no problem whatsoever earning that record, and he ended up doing so much more.
In what Phelps says will be the final competition of his career, he ended his Olympic career in remarkable fashion. Phelps earned four golds and six overall medals as part of his seven-race program, bringing himself to extraordinary career totals of 18 golds and 22 overall medals that may never be broken.
Phelps’ Games got off to a slow start, but they finished in extraordinary fashion, as he earned four consecutive golds in his final four races, concluding with Saturday’s medley relay victory.
In the following slides, we take a look at each of Phelps’ seven races from London, and what they meant to his final Games.
Race 1: 400-Meter Individual Medley
There were no head-to-head matchups more heavily anticipated at the 2012 Olympic Games than the two individual medley races between Phelps and Ryan Lochte. For Phelps, however, the first stage of the duel was a major disappointment.
For only the second time in his entire Olympic career (the first time since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney), Phelps failed to earn a medal, finishing fourth in a time of 4 minutes, 9.28 seconds. Phelps finished 4.10 seconds behind Lochte, who lived up to the hype right away and earned gold.
Missing the medal stand in his first race raised doubts as to whether Phelps was still one of the world’s best swimmers, but he would quickly turn his Games around.
Race 2: 4x100-Meter Freestyle
One of the most memorable moments of Michael Phelps’ record-breaking, eight-gold-medal-winning performance at the 2008 Beijing Games came in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay—a race in which Phelps led off, but is remembered for Jason Lezak’s incredible comeback in the final 50 meters of the race to earn gold for the United States.
In this year’s edition of the 4x100 free relay, the tables were turned on Phelps. Phelps, who swam the second leg of this year’s race, had a remarkable split of 47.15 seconds, which gave the U.S. a solid lead through two legs. However France’s Yannick Agnel caught Lochte in the race’s final 50 meters, dropping the U.S. into silver-medal position.
The race was still significant for Phelps, as it was his first medal of the London Games and showed that he was still an elite relay swimmer, but silver was a disappointment when gold appeared to be in the team’s grasp.
Race 3: 200-Meter Butterfly
Another memorable moment from Phelps’ Beijing Games came in the 100-meter butterfly, when Phelps out-touched Serbia’s Milorad Cavic by one-hundredth of a second. This year, in the 200-meter butterfly, the tables were yet again turned on Phelps.
Phelps led the 200 fly for nearly the entire duration of the race, but lost it at the finish to South Africa’s Chad le Clos, who out-touched Phelps by .05 seconds.
This was a very strong showing for Phelps, as he proved he was still capable of winning an individual gold in the butterfly—but in this race, Le Clos was just barely better.
This race proved, however, that Phelps was still capable of earning individual golds.
Race 4: 4x200-Meter Freestyle
One of the most magical moments of Phelps’ Olympic career came in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, when Phelps swam the final leg to clinch his first gold medal of the Games, which was also his record-breaking 19th overall medal of his career.
The United States already had a 3.88-second lead when Phelps jumped into the water to swim the final 200 meters, but Phelps did not let up. He actually swam the team’s fastest leg of the race at 1:44.05, leading the team to a 3.07-second lead over second-place France, the same team that had deprived Team USA of gold in the 4x100.
Phelps, who had already held the record for most Olympic gold medals, only added to his remarkable list of records by earning his 19th medal. It was certainly an incredible Olympic moment that will never be forgotten, and Phelps legitimately earned the medal by swimming a terrific anchor leg.
Race 5: 200-Meter Individual Medley
Phelps swam with Lochte in earning a silver on the 4x100 free and a gold in the 4x200 free, but after breaking the medals record, he set his sights on redemption in the 200-meter individual medley, where he had another chance to beat Lochte. This time, Phelps was at his best, and he evened the score between the two U.S. swimming stars with a gold-medal victory.
Phelps finished in a time of 1:54.27, .63 seconds ahead of Lochte. Phelps managed to hold the race lead for its entire duration, and he proved that he could still be the world’s best individual-medley swimmer.
With this win, Phelps not only took a gold back from Lochte, but became the first male swimmer in Olympic history to win the same swimming event in three consecutive Games. For the second straight race, Phelps had done something no one had ever done before, while also winning his 16th gold and 20th medal in what was arguably his biggest win of the Games because he was able to win over his biggest competitive rival, Lochte.
Race 6: 100-Meter Butterfly
Having proved he could win gold once again in the individual medley, Phelps now had a chance for another three-peat if he could win gold in the 100-meter butterfly. Going up against Cavic (the man he had to beat with a final touch in this event in 2008) and Le Clos (the man who beat Phelps with a final touch in the 200 fly), Phelps prevailed to win his third consecutive gold of the Games in the 100 fly.
Phelps did not have to survive a dramatic reach to the wall this time, as he won the race in a time of 51.21 seconds, .23 seconds ahead of Le Clos and Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin, who tied in a dead heat for second place.
This race was, however, Phelps’ greatest comeback performance of the Games—he was only in seventh place after 50 meters, but closed very strong in the final 50 to finish first.
Race 7: 4x100-Meter Medley Relay
In the highly competitive sport of Olympic swimming, no race is ever a sure victory, even during the peak of Phelps’ legendary career. For the United States’ 4x100-meter medley relay team, however, this race was about as much of a gold-medal lock as there ever was in the sport.
In addition to Phelps, who had proven himself as the world’s best in the 100 fly, the team also included Matt Grevers, the 100-meter backstroke gold medalist, and Nathan Adrian, the 100-meter freestyle gold medalist, both competing in their specialty events. Along with Brendan Hansen in the breaststroke, the team combined to swim the race in 3:29.35, earning a 1.91-second, gold-medal victory over Japan.
Following a very strong breaststroke leg by Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima, the United States fell back to second place before Phelps jumped into the pool to swim the butterfly, the third leg of the medley relay.
Phelps was able to re-gain the lead with a very strong leg of 50.73 seconds, and Adrian was able to pull away in the final 100-meter freestyle leg of the race to clinch Phelps’ 18th career gold—22nd career medal and fourth consecutive gold—to conclude his legendary career.
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Dan Hope is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the 2012 Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.