LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Phelps suffered a shock defeat to South Africa’s Chad le Clos in the final of the 200 meters butterfly at the London Olympics on Tuesday after messing up his touch.
Phelps, who was bidding to became the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three Olympics, led all the way but misjudged his final stroke, allowing le Clos to get his hands on the wall first in a time of one minute, 52.96 seconds.
Phelps, a master of winning tight finishes, took the silver, while Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda was third.
“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a little boy. I just wanted to race Phelps in the final and I’ve beaten him. I can’t believe it,” said le Clos.
“Phelps is my hero and I love the guy. To beat him, I can’t believe it. You don’t understand what this means to me. This is the greatest moment of my life.”
Phelps was less impressed, throwing his goggles into the water then later stormed past reporters without stopping before regaining his composure and managing a wry smile at the medal ceremony.
The lone consolation for Phelps was that his second placing lifted his career tally to 18 medals, 14 gold, two silvers and two bronze, joining Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympian, though not for long.
The 200 butterfly is one of the most physically demanding events in swimming but is also Phelps’ favorite.
He swam the 200 at the Sydney Olympics when he was just a 15-year-old and set his first world record and won his first world title in the exhausting four-lap race.
Of all the possible scenarios, however, the thought of him losing after a bad touch was the most unlikely after he famously won the 100 butterfly finals in 2004 and 2008 with masterful finishes.
In Beijing, a calculated gamble to take one final short stroke paid, enabling him to win his seventh gold medal and equal Mark Spitz’s record from the 1972 Munich Games.
Phelps and Serbia’s Milorad Cavic were level as they raced towards the finish line but rather than take the safe option and reach for the wall, Phelps rolled his enormous shoulders over one more time in one short, sharp lunge that would make or break him.
Phelps won by 0.01, the smallest possible margin in swimming in Beijing, but his mistake on Tuesday say him lose by 0.05.
Only two swimmers have ever won the same individual event at three Olympics, Australia’s Dawn Fraser, in 100 freestyle in 1956, 1960 and 1964, and Hungary’s Krisztina Egerszegi in 200 backstroke in 1988, 1992 and 1996.
It is a feat that has eluded generations of the best male swimmers until Phelps, who had the chance of doing it in four different events in London.
He failed at his first attempt when he came fourth in the 400 individual medley but still has the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly to come.
Editing by Greg Stutchbury