Michael Phelps (right), with his U.S. teammate Ryan Lochte, looks at the scoreboard after winning the 200-meter individual medley for his sixth gold medal and sixth world record of the Beijing Olympics. (AP photo / August 15, 2008)
"Gran, I am out to win," Michael Phelps once told his grandmother over a game of rummy. "Whether it's you or anybody else."
The opponent doesn't actually matter. Sometimes it's Grandma. Sometimes it's a best friend one lane over in the practice pool. This time, it happened to be Ryan Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley.
Phelps picked up his sixth gold medal and his sixth world record in the race. You could tear several pages off a wall calendar from the time Phelps completes a race to when the rest of the field reaches the wall. His latest winning time was more than two seconds ahead of anyone else.
Lochte would have more hardware hanging from his neck if Phelps for some reason had chosen to vacation in Hawaii this August. But Lochte lacks the hypercompetitive drive that propels Phelps through the water with such grace and force.
Phelps has a hunger for success matched only by his fear of failure. It's a throbbing life force found deep in the psyche of only the elite of elite. Tiger Woods has it. So did Michael Jordan.
There are many things that distinguish Phelps from everyone else on the pool deck. Feet, joints, torso, shoulders, butt -- take your pick. Not to belittle any of his physical attributes, but the biggest thing separating Phelps from his foes is that while they all want to touch the wall first, Phelps absolutely must.
In the preliminaries of the 200 IM, Lochte actually swam an eyelash faster than Phelps. But in the final, the race that mattered, Lochte was barely in the same pool, finishing a full 2.3 seconds behind Phelps.
"Michael is Michael, and he doesn't like to lose in anything," his eldest sister, Hilary, said.
-- Rick Maese
Silver: Laszlo Cseh, Hungary
Bronze: Ryan Lochte, USA
Time: 1:54.23, WR
Previous world record: 1:54.80 (Phelps)
Key to the victory: A weary Phelps fought through pain the final 100 meters to win easily. Lochte had to swim the 200 backstroke final just 27 minutes before the IM final.
Highlight: Phelps lowered a world record he has held since 2002, when he was 17 years old.
Quote: "I had no time. The [gold] medal was in my warm-up jacket." -- Phelps, who had to swim in the 100-meter butterfly semifinals just seven minutes after the medal ceremony.