KEIR RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO: There may have been perfectly-protected eyes in the water but there were few dry eyes in the rest of the house after a remarkable two hours’ of an Olympic swimming masterclass.
Two more golds for Michael Phelps – one in the men’s x200m individual relay – and another one each for fellow American Katie Ledecky (200m freestyle) and Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (200m individual medley) all added up to as close to perfection as Olympic competition can provide.
Ledecky’s gold was her second of the Games while Hosszu collected her third.
To complete the length, breadth of the evening, there were outstanding performances – worthy cameos of their own – from other swimmers and nations.
In Britain’s case that meant a silver behind Hosszu for Siobhan-Marie O’Connor and another silver for the men’s quartet in the slipstream of Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Co in the men’s 4×200 freestyle.
Phelps, in avenging his 200m butterfly defeat in London four years ago, extended his status as the most successful Olympian of all time by sweeping his medal tally to 25 with golds 20 and 21.
Phelps, who retired after London only to launch a comeback in 2014, celebrated by climbing into the stands to embrace his fiancee Nicole Johnson and kiss his baby son Boomer who appeared ever so slightly bored by it all.
His father, indeed, has made a remarkable habit of winning but what was almost as impressive as Phelps’s phenomenal, irresistible power through the water was the obvious thrill and delight he still clearly feels from that winning moment.
A perpetual need for self-examination and will appeared to have had driven him on but also a desperate awareness of unfinished business.
Phelps, who had misjudged his final touch in London in the butterly behind Le Clos, and said: “I’m just thankful, that’s for sure, I wanted that one back.
“That event was kind of like my bread and butter, and that was the last time I’ll ever swim it… There wasn’t a shot in hell I was losing it. Every ounce that I had was left in the pool.
“Just being able to see the No1 next to my name again one more time in the 200 fly – I couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Seventy-five minutes after racing, he was back in the water to swim the final leg of the 4×200 freestyle after Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Lochte had built a lead of 1.76 seconds. The Americans touched in 7:00.66, with Britain second in 7:03.13 and Japan in third after James Guy overhauled Takeshi Matsuda on the final leg.
The magnitude of Phelps’s achievements on the night was that outstanding Olympians Ledecky and Hosszu were almost suppporting cast.
Ledecky 19, edged Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and Australia’s Emma McKeon to win the 200m freestyle, following up Sunday’s success in the 400m.
She is more than ever the overwhelming favorite to add the 800 title later this week and achieve a treble beyond any woman since fellow American Debbie Meyer in Mexico City in 1968.
Hosszu who, despite five world titles had come away empty-handed from three previous Olympics, won her third gold medal with victory in the women’s 200 individual medley.
The 27-year-old, who set an Olympic record of 2:06.58, had already won the 400 individual medley on Saturday and 100 backstroke on Monday.
‘Iron Lady’ Hosszu, who had withdrawn from Tuesday’s 200m butterfly to prepare for the individual medley final, is entered in one more individual event, the 200 backstroke.
Victory would see her match the women’s record of four solo swimming golds at a single Games set by East Germany’s Kristin Otto in Seoul in 1988.