LONDON (Reuters) - Tyler Clary vindicated his decision to take on the world's toughest swimmers when he upset his American team mate Ryan Lochte to win the men's 200 meters backstroke gold medal at the London Olympics on Thursday.
Lochte went into the race as the overwhelming favorite and led at all the turns but faded on the last lap as Clary made his move.
Clary drew level with Lochte then pushed as hard as he could and won a tight finish to capture his first Olympic gold medal in a time of one minute, 53.41 seconds.
"I stuck to my guns and I was able to come by in those last few 15 meters and get my hand on the wall," he said. "That was the perfect race I swam...it couldn't have gone any better."
Japan's Ryosuke Irie, runner-up to Lochte at last year's world championships, also made a late charge to grab the silver while Lochte won the bronze.
Of the hundreds of swimmers competing at the Olympics, few faced a tougher challenge winning gold than Clary.
A glutton for punishment, the 23-year-old went head to head with Lochte and Michael Phelps in their favorite events. He failed to medal racing against Phelps in the 200 butterfly but made amends with his gold in the backstroke.
"You always have big dreams in your head. You hope that you might pull off something like that," he said.
"It has not even processed in my mind yet. The fact that I am now the Olympic champion and record holder is something that is very humbling."
Clary missed out on the Beijing Olympics after finishing behind Phelps and Lochte at the U.S. Trials but rather than try other events to avoid meeting them again, he dedicated himself to training with renewed motivation.
A year later, he qualified for the world championships in Rome, and won a silver medal behind Lochte in the 400 individual medley when Phelps decided he was no longer swimming the event.
He finished second to Lochte again at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai and was third in the 200 backstroke, again behind Lochte.
But his chances of making the Olympic team for London were dealt a blow when Phelps changed his mind and decided to enter the 400 individual medley.
Although he had finished second at the past two world championships and would have been an obvious medal contender, Clary only managed third at the U.S. Trials so did not qualify.
However, he made up for disappointment when he finished second in the 200 butterfly and 200 backstroke to book his first berth to the Olympics and said the battles he endured just to make the team ultimately made him a better swimmer.
"It's complete redemption, the fact that trials didn't go the way I wanted and everything that's been going on leading up to this," he said.
"It's a testament to me more than anything that I can handle anything that gets thrown at me."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)