Mon July 30, 2012 6:09am
Michael Phelps has been accustomed to dominating his battle with mortality. In London, the gloves have finally dropped.
Halfway through the 400m individual medley final at London's Olympic pool, you still wanted to believe he could dictate the outcome whenever he felt the urge to waggle his golden feet.
He edged into the field in lane eight after tempting fate with almost perilous results in the heats, progressing by just .07 of a second. But he knew what he was doing, because he's Michael Phelps. The Michael Phelps, of the 14 Olympic golds, so everyone can relax. He'll swoop down the flank like a winger in the grand final.
There had even been some who digested his clunky heat swim as added reason to think he was saving something ridiculously spectacular for the final. Winning from lane eight? This will surely be his finest moment. After dominating this event for a decade, this guy needs a new challenge other than how to spend his endorsement cash.
We wanted to believe the first leg, where Ryan Lochte began to assert his dominance, was because Lochte had gone out too fast. This was playing right into Phelps's hands. We wanted to believe the 2.54 second gap Lochte had opened up by halfway was Phelps merely planning his crushing surge to maximum theatre.
We believed. And believed. And then didn't believe. Lochte had won gold. Phelps had missed the medals. He looked strangely normal and wore it like a rented suit. Even Lochte was baffled when he looked around the dais and Phelps was already on the bus back to the Village.