LONDON: Michael Phelps became the first male swimmer to win the same event at three successive Olympics when he clinched the men's 200 metres individual medley gold medal at the London Games on Thursday.
The American may no longer be the unstoppable force he was in Beijing four years ago but he still provided an everlasting reminder of his incredible talent and determination by winning the gruelling multi-discipline event.
Phelps led all the way and got his giant hands on the wall first in a time of one minute, 54.27 seconds, relegating compatriot and world champion Ryan Lochte to silver and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh to bronze.
“To be able to win the gold medal and repeat three times is something pretty special,” Phelps said. “I'm pretty pleased with gold.”
Lochte beat Phelps in the 400 medley on the opening night of the swimming competition but was close to exhaustion in their second highly-anticipated clash after competing in the 200 backstroke final half an hour before the medley.
“I can't complain. I'm bringing home five Olympic medals,” said Lochte, who won two gold, two silver and a bronze in London.
“I've had some ups and downs but I'll take it.”
Lochte won both the 200 backstroke and 200 individual medley at last year's world championship but was unable to win either this time, finishing third in the backstroke behind another of his team mates.
Tyler Clary, who has spent most of his career swimming in the shadows of Phelps and Lochte, stormed home on the last lap to win gold in 1:53.41 ahead of Japan's Ryosuke Irie and Lochte, who faded on the final length after trying to lead all the way.
“It's complete redemption,” said Clary. “It's a testament to me more than anything that I can handle anything that gets thrown at me.”
Rebecca Soni broke the world record for the second time in 24 hours to win the 200 breaststroke as the U.S. continued their domination in the pool, winning 11 gold medals in the first six days.
Soni surged away from her rivals on the final lap to win in 2:19.59, slashing four-tenths of a second off the record she set in the semi-finals, while Japan's Satomi Suzuki won the silver medal and the bronze went to Iuliia Efimova of Russia.
Soni also won the four-lap event in Beijing four years ago and by winning in London she became the first woman to successfully defend a breaststroke title at the Olympics.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands prevented an American sweep of the four golds decided on Thursday when she won the 100 freestyle final in 53.00 seconds.
After completing the first lap in fourth place, the flying Dutchwoman hit the accelerator on the last length, surging clear to win ahead of Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus, who was joint world champion last year, and China's Tang Yi.
American teenager Missy Franklin finished out of the medals in fifth place but won a semi-final of the 200 backstroke to book her place in Friday's final.
Phelps also secured himself a spot in another final, the 100 butterfly, after posting the fastest semi-final time around 40 minutes after winning the medley.
Only two swimmers had ever won the same individual event at three successive Olympics, Australia's Dawn Fraser, in 100 freestyle in 1956, 1960 and 1964, and Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi in 200 backstroke in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
It is a feat that had eluded generations of the best male swimmers but not Phelps, who now has a staggering total of 20 Olympic medals, including 16 gold, and the chance to win two more before his retirement at the end of the Games.