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Phelps wins 20th, 21st Olympic gold medals.
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Michael Phelps sat alone, thoroughly exhausted. He put his head in his hands and then motioned at his neck as though he had nothing left to give.
His work was done.
He had his 20th and 21st gold medals.
Phelps made up for one of the rare losses in his brilliant career by winning the 200-meter butterfly Tuesday night, a victory that sent him climbing into the stands to kiss his 3-month-old son Boomer. An hour later, he returned to take what amounted to nothing more than a triumphant victory lap in anchoring the 4×200 freestyle relay, the crowd’s deafening roar growing louder with every stroke.
“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.’’
It was another performance for the ages, but Phelps has done it so many times that nothing else would have been fitting. It came on a night that American teammate Katie Ledecky picked up her second gold of the Rio Olympics on the way to what could be a historic run of her own in the pool.
Phelps now has 25 medals in all, and three more races in Rio to add to his almost unimaginable total.
No other Olympian has more than nine golds.
“That’s a lot of medals,’’ Phelps said, shaking his head. “It’s just insane.’’
The 200 fly was the one he really wanted, and it showed.
With challengers all around, Phelps simply wouldn’t be denied. With his head nearly at the wall, he took one more stroke to make sure he got there first, his arms slamming against the timing pad.
“Going into the finish I said, `If I have to take a half-stroke, I’m going to take a half stroke,’’’ Phelps said.
That split-second decision got him to the wall ahead of everyone else, by a mere four-hundredths of a second.
When Phelps saw the “1’’ by his name, he held up one finger. Then he sat on a lane rope, egging on the roaring crowd at the Olympic Aquatics Center with both hands, before emphatically pumping his fist.
Tears welled in his eyes as he listened to the national anthem – until one of his buddies from Baltimore cracked him up that shouting out “O’’ like they do at Camden Yards before Orioles’ games. Then, 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.