RIO DE JANEIRO — This is the one Michael Phelps really wanted, and it showed.
With challengers all around, he simply wouldn’t be denied.
After touching the wall first — barely — 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 in the direction of his fiancee and their infant son.
Once again, the gold medal in the 200-meter butterfly belongs to Phelps.
Being the 20th gold of his career only added to the satisfaction.
Making up for one of the few losses in his staggering career, Phelps held off Japan’s Masato Sakai by a mere four-hundredths of a second. The winning time was 1 minute, 53.36 seconds, but that was of little concern. The only thing that mattered was getting to the wall first.
Four years ago, Phelps mistimed his finish in the swooping stroke he does better than anyone, gliding to the wall a little too long after his final stroke. 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.
Phelps retired after the London Games, so it looked like he wouldn’t get a chance to make up for his defeat. But when he decided about a year later to start competing again, the 200 fly was clearly the title he wanted more than any other.
Le Clos was in the final again, thoroughly inspired himself by his mother and father, both battling cancer and in the stands cheering him on.
But the South African could only manage fourth this time, finishing behind bronze medalist Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary.