Posted: Aug 2, 2012 3:45 PM by cbssports.com
Updated: Aug 2, 2012 3:55 PM
LONDON - Let the debate continue: Is Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian ever?
If you're counting medals, the answer is yes. Phelps now owns 20, more than anyone in the world.
Phelps added to his medal collection with his first individual gold medal of the London Games, and handed Ryan Lochte a double disappointment on his rival's final night in the pool.
Phelps set the tone right from the start Thursday to become the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three straight Olympics, capturing the 200-meter individual medley for his 20th career medal -- and 16th gold. He touched in 1 minute, 54.27 seconds, just off his winning time in Beijing but still good enough for gold.
Lochte settled for silver, and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh took the bronze.
So a farewell Games that started as a bit of a disappointment for Phelps is definitely looking up. He's now won two golds and two silvers in five races -- not up to his Beijing standards, but a fitting capper to a brilliant career that still has two more events to go.
In fact, as soon as Phelps finished off Lochte, he hopped out of the pool and headed to the nearby diving well to warm down, knowing he still had a semifinal of the 100 butterfly before the night was done. He was the top qualifier in that one, setting up a rematch in Friday's final against Milorad Cavic -- the outspoken Serbian who still seems to think he got to the wall first in Beijing but lost by a hundredth of a second.
Lochte had gone through the same routine just a few minutes earlier, trying to pull off an impressive double 31 minutes apart. He came up short in both races, fading to bronze in the 200 backstroke behind fellow American Tyler Clary, then touching after Phelps in the medley.
Phelps' reaction wasn't a water-pounding celebration, just a dazed smile and a definite look of relief. He seemed to be soaking it all in, relishing a gold of his own in London with his previous victory coming in the 4x200 freestyle relay.
"Going into every call room, I said it's my last semifinal or my last prelim or my last semi of the 100 fly, so tonight is the last semi ever," said Phelps, who plans to retire from swimming as soon as he touches the wall for the final time in London. "We're kind of chalking up all the lasts of certain things."
Lochte shook hands with his rival before crawling out of the pool for the last time at these Games. In a symbolic gesture, he tossed his cap and goggles into the crowd, his work done. His final tally: two golds, two silvers, one bronze and a fourth-place finish -- impressive, but undoubtedly shy of what he had predicted would be "my time."
This time still belongs to Phelps.
At least for a couple more days.
"Ryan has probably been one of the toughest competitors I've swam against, all-around competitors," Phelps said. "We're seeing a lot more competitors coming up."
Rebecca Soni of the United States set another world record to defend her 200-meter breaststroke title at the London Olympics on Thursday.
Soni clocked 2 minutes, 19.59 seconds to improve on her own mark from Wednesday's semifinals by 0.41 seconds.
It was the sixth world record in the pool at these Games.
She broke into a big smile when she saw the time, racing the clock more than she was anyone in the water. Japan's Satomi Suzuki took silver, more than a second behind at 2:20.72, while Russia's Yulia Efimova claimed bronze in 2:20.92.
"I'm so happy," Soni said. "I can't believe I did it."
South Africa's Suzaan van Biljon led at the first turn, but the American quickly seized control on the second lap. She was comfortably ahead by the second turn, then turned on the speed to beat her own record.
"It's been my goal since I was a little kid to go under 2:20," Soni said. "That's when my coach told me you're going to be the first woman to go under 2:19. I've been chasing it ever since. I'm just so happy."
Soni was also favored to win the 100 breast but took silver behind surprise 15-year-old winner Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania.
Meilutyte did not enter the 200.
Tyler Clary of the United States passed defending champion Ryan Lochte on the last lap and set an Olympic record to win the 200-meter backstroke at the London Games on Thursday.
Clary clocked 1 minute, 53.41 seconds to improve on the previous mark of 1:53.94 set by Lochte at the 2008 Beijing Games in a now-banned bodysuit.
Ryosuke Irie of Japan touched in 1:53.78 to take the silver medal and Lochte finished in 1:53.94 for bronze.
The U.S. has its three-peat in the women's gymnastics individual all-around where Gabby Douglas has won the gold medal.
Purported to be the U.S.'s most talented all-around gymnast but also its most likely to make a critical error coming into the Games, Douglas has instead been the American team's rock, putting together a virtually flawless performance to claim the Olympic title with a score of 62.232.
"I wanted to seize the moment," Douglas said. "It hasn't sunk in yet. Team finals hasn't sunk in yet. But it will."
Russian Victoria Komova challenged Douglas every bit of the way but settled for silver at 61.973, a margin of only .269 points. Aliya Mustafina and American Aly Raisman tied for third at 59.566, but Mustafina won the tiebreaker for the bronze after both gymnasts' lowest score was dropped.
"It's really disappointing, but I'm really happy for Gabby," Raisman said. "But it's definitely really frustrating because we tied for third place. I was so close."
Douglas -- the first woman of color, of any nationality, to win the event -- follows in the footsteps of 2004 gold medalist Carly Patterson and 2008 champion Nastia Liukin to make it three straight victories for the Americans in gymnastics' highest-profile event. The sweep of the all-around and team golds in a single Olympics is the U.S.'s first.
Unlike the team event, though, Komova kept the all-around title in doubt until the last score of the night. Douglas entered the fourth and final rotation, the floor exercise, with a slim .362 lead. Her electrifying, cleanly-executed routine and score of 15.033 seemed to have clinched the title. But Komova delivered a powerhourse performance of her own that raised the possiblity of a last-gasp victory.
But the judges awarded a score of "only" 15.1, giving Douglas the gold and reducing Komova to devastated tears.
"I'm still upset because I could have been gold and I didn't get it," Komova said, having stowed her silver medal in her warm-up jacket.
It didn't take Douglas long for her to get some public congratulations from a particularly invested viewer:
Jordyn Wieber: @jordyn_wieber Congrats @gabrielledoug! You are the Olympic all around champion and you deserve it girl!
As was the case during the team event, Douglas and Raisman both performed huge vaults in their first rotation to open up a lead. Douglas went first and delivered her usual "Amanar" -- a roundoff onto the takeoff board, back handspring onto the table and 2.5 twisting somersaults before landing -- to score a McKayla Maroney-rivaling 15.966, despite a slight hop to one side. Raisman was only ever-so-slightly weaker with her Amanar, scoring an impressive 15.9 to place the Americans 1-2 after the first rotation.
But Komova wasn't far behind at all, scoring a 15.466 with her own Amanar -- a skill she debuted in London -- despite multiple steps after her landing. Mustafina scored a 15.233 to rank fourth.
With Komova's strength on the uneven bars, it was likely going to take a big routine from Douglas to stay in the lead, while Raisman would try to limit the damage and make up the ground in the final two rotations on beam and floor--her best events.
That's how it played out, as Raisman's safety-first routine scored a 14.333, Komova posted an outstanding 15.966, and Douglas's high-flying release skills earned her a 15.733. Mustafina, a former world champion on the bars, performed flawleesly and scored a massive 16.1 to put her directly in the gold medal mix.
Komova gave little away with a strong beam routine, one whose start value -- one of the highest in the competition -- helped her to a 15.433 despite several bobbles. Mustafina, however, had struggled on beam in the team competition and fell completely off Thursday, scoring a 13.433 to fall right back out of the gold medal mix.
Douglas had struggled staying on the beam in other 2012 meets, but it was never an issue in London. Despite a handful of balance checks, she never seriously wavered and cleanly landed several difficult elements. She scored a 15.5 to extend her lead.
Unfortunately for Raisman, it wasn't her day on beam. She put her hand on the beam after one wobble, needed multiple other balance checks to avoid a fall, and took a large step on her difficult dismount. Her 14.2 left the gold battle between Douglas and Komova, and ultimately cost her the bronze.
Elsewhere, a story of heartache and tragedy becomes a story of triumph and perseverence.
At 22 years of age, Kayla Harrison has won the first gold medal for judo in Olympic history for the United States of America.
Harrison, whose story of sexual abuse by her former coach as a young teenager has been well documented in the media, received the honor to a raucous round of cheers, even from the heavily pro-Great-Britain crowd in London, as Harrison toppled Gemma Gibbons 2-0 to win gold.
Harrison's strength and aggressiveness, which had lead to her coaches moving her up in weight class, helped her in dominating the match with her hips and legs, eventually battering Gimmons to the mat twice then holding off for the win with her upper body control.
After the match, she hugged her coach who told her "I'm so proud of you" on NBC's broadcast, then leaped into the stands into the ams of her fiance. It was an emotional moment for anyone aware of what the young woman went through, an extraordinary Olympic tale of how sport can provide personal redemption. Harrison has been quoted as sayig that judo "saved (her) life."
And in taking a huge step forward in the sport for the United States, she's paid that debt back.
Meantime, in the water, the United States held off Canada to win a second straight Olympic gold in the women's eight Thursday, maintaining its six-year dominance of the high-profile event.
"That is an American dynasty, baby," said U.S. crewmember Susan Francia, who was close to tears as she collected her medal on the pontoon at Dorney Lake. "It's just so special."
The U.S. led from start to finish to win in 6 minutes, 10.59 seconds, a half-length ahead of a fast-finishing Canadian crew who have come close to breaking the American stranglehold on the event this year.
They left their charge too late in the final.
The U.S. boat of Mary Whipple (coxswain), Caryn Davies, Caroline Lind, Eleanor Logan, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel, Esther Lofgren, Francia and Erin Cafaro threw their arms up after crossing the line, screaming in delight. Some leaned back into their teammates' lap.
The U.S. hasn't lost a competitive race in the eight since winning the world title here in 2006 and they never looked likely to lose here.
"Coming off the line, I felt so much," Whipple said. "And then when we took our stride, that was beautiful.
"We were a little high and I just told them to breathe and enjoy the moment. Feel each stroke. Be present. And we were present - the whole time."
Whipple received the biggest cheer as the medals were distributed under clearing skies. She would later be tossed into the lake by the jubilant crew.
Lofgren wiped away tears as she sang the "Star-Spangled Banner." Ritzel looked at her gold medal and shook her head.
The Americans successfully defended the title they won in the Beijing Games in 2008. The country's only previous Olympic gold in the discipline came at Los Angeles in 1984.
Canada had closed the gap in the past 12 months, losing by only three hundredths of a second at a recent World Cup regatta in Lucerne and then qualifying for the Olympic final in a faster time in the heats.
Darcy Marquardt said her boat would "put a Canadian stamp" on the race but that never happened.
The U.S. established a lead of 2.3 seconds by the halfway 1,000-meter mark.
They kept that cushion into the final 500 meters and although Canada gradually trimmed the advantage, the Americans stayed smooth and were in full control.
"It was magical," Whipple said
The Netherlands took the bronze to close the second day of finals at Dorney Lake.
After Thursday's strong performance by the Americans, the lead for London's medal count now belongs to Team U.S.A. with 37. China has 34, followed by Japan with 19.