Michael Phelps won his 17th Olympic gold medal and last in an individual swimming event, taking the 100-meter butterfly for the third straight games.
Phelps, a 27-year-old American, added to his Olympic record for most gold medals and most total medals, now at 21.
Missy Franklin, 17, a Colorado high school senior who describes Phelps as her mentor, completed a backstroke sweep, winning the 200 meters in world-record time, adding it to the 100-meter title she earned five days ago. A third American, Katie Ledecky, 15, the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team, captured the 800-meter freestyle crown.
Phelps won the 200-meter individual medley yesterday at London’s Aquatics Centre to become the first male swimmer to win the same race at three straight Olympics. He repeated that feat today in the butterfly by finishing in 51.21 seconds, ahead of Chad le Clos of South Africa and Evgeny Korotyshkin of Russia.
Phelps was seventh after 50 meters before charging to victory. His mother, Debbie, could barely watch from the stands, clenching her fingers as Phelps made his final push.
“I don’t even want to complain about going slower or having a bad turn, I’m just happy that the last one was a win,” said Phelps. “That’s all I really wanted.”
Phelps has said this Olympics, his fourth, will be his last. He’s retiring after London, having made his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old at the 2000 Games in Sydney. One more race, tomorrow’s 400-meter medley relay, should complete his career.
Phelps won six gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics and followed that with a record eight in Beijing four years ago. Phelps has now earned three gold medals and two silvers in London.
Franklin, who has shunned offers of sponsorship to retain her college eligibility, led her race from start to finish, getting the meet’s sixth world record in 2 minutes, 4.06 seconds, breaking the mark of 2:04.81 set by Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe in 2009. Anastasia Zueva of Russia was second, 1.86 seconds behind, and Elizabeth Beisel of the U.S. was third.
“I think it is awesome that so many swimmers have been able to break world records when a lot of people didn’t think we’d be able to,” Franklin told reporters.
Franklin had won the 100-meter backstroke on July 30 in a U.S. record and added another gold with the U.S. 800-meter freestyle relay team. Franklin, who’s entered in seven events, the most attempted by a U.S. female swimmer, also took bronze in the 400-meter freestyle relay.
The U.S. added its 14th gold of the swim meet and third of the night as Ledecky, a high school student from Bethesda, Maryland, controlled the 800 freestyle for the final 300 meters.
Ledecky clocked 8:14:53, 4.13 seconds ahead of Spain’s Mireia Belmonte Garcia, 21, in second place. Britain’s Rebecca Adlington, the defending champion who was cheered by the majority of the 17,000 crowd, took bronze.
“I just didn’t know until the 700-meter mark that I’d done it,” Ledecky told reporters.
Tonight’s gold medals extended the U.S.’s lead in the swimming competition above China and France. Half of the U.S.’s 28 swimming medals are gold, while China has nine total medals, including four golds. France also has four golds out of the seven it has won in the swimming pool.
Brazil’s Cesar Cielo, who hadn’t been beaten over 50 meters at a major international meet in four years, failed to defend the title he won in Beijing. Florent Manaudou, 21, a first-time Olympian from France, sprinted to victory in 21.34 seconds, 0.2 seconds ahead of Cullen Jones of the U.S. Cielo, 25, got the bronze.
Phelps smiled and laughed with le Clos and Korotyshkin following his final solo appearance on the podium before throwing his flowers to a young family member.
The American’s meet in London started slowly. He failed to get a medal for the first time in an Olympic event since Sydney when he finished fourth behind teammate and friend Ryan Lochte, 28, in the 400-meter individual medley.
He then lost the 200-meter butterfly to le Clos after missing the wall and finishing second. His first gold arrived as he anchored the U.S.’s 800-meter freestyle team.
Phelps took another silver medal when France came from behind to beat the U.S. in the 400-meter freestyle relay. Yesterday he led from start to finish to win his first individual gold of these games, beating Lochte.
The 100-meter butterfly was one of the most dramatic in the pool in Beijing. Phelps’s bid for eight golds looked about to fail as Milorad Cavic of Serbia stretched for the wall before the American. With a final half-stroke, Phelps got there first, winning a race that required swimming’s governing body to review the finish down to thousandths of a second.
“This one was a bigger margin of victory than the last two combined, so we can smile and be happy,” said Phelps. “It was fun.”
Cavic finished fourth today in 51.81 after leading at the halfway mark.