BEIJING (Reuters) - Michael Phelps cast himself as a sore loser on Tuesday, even if the world will have to take it on trust.
Everything is going swimmingly for the all-conquering American, who put in another pulverising performance in the Olympic pool to snap up his third gold in three days.
The 23-year-old dominated the 200 metres freestyle, streaking clear of his rivals and smashing a world record for the third time in as many days to take his career tally to a record-equalling nine gold medals.
There could be five more by the end of the week in a performance of such brightness as to remain a beacon of athletic prowess for generations to come.
But it was a rare failure, in the same event at the 2004 Athens Games, that had helped fire him up for Tuesday’s masterclass.
In that “race of the century”, Phelps finished only third behind Australian Ian Thorpe and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband.
“I hate to lose,” Phelps told a news conference.
“And getting third in the 200 free four years ago...You know, when I do lose in a race like that and in circumstances like that, it motivates me even more to try and swim faster.
“I think over the past four years I’ve been able to make some pretty significant drops in the 200 free.
“I couldn’t ask for anything else so far from my first three medal races,” he added. “We’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do so far.”
Tuesday’s gold kept Phelps on course to break Mark Spitz’s record of seven at a single Games while also elevating him to the pantheon of Olympic greats.
Only Spitz, compatriot Carl Lewis, Finland’s Paavo Nurmi and Soviet era gymnast Larysa Latynina have won nine career golds and their record may not last even another day at the Water Cube with Phelps back in action on Wednesday.
“To be tied for the most Olympic golds of all time, with those names in Olympic history and the Olympics have been around for so many years, is a pretty amazing accomplishment,” said Phelps.
“It’s definitely an honour. I’ve been able to spend some time with Carl Lewis and exchange a few words with Spitz here and there, so it’s pretty amazing.”
Phelps repeated his mantra of taking each race one at a time but was unable to pinpoint just exactly who might thwart his bid for a straight eight.
Fighting his draining schedule with a copious diet of pasta and pizza, the Baltimore phenomenon suggested that conquering sleep was almost as big a challenge as anything he faced in the Water Cube.
“I’ve been sleeping as much as I can,” he said.
“Just about every morning I have woken up at about 4.30 or 5 o’clock. It takes me a while to fall back to sleep and when I do fall back I get an extra half an hour.
“It takes me a while to get up in the morning. But it’s the Olympics, so you have to.”