There was blue sky today, It was as if the aquatic gods have now sent the storm packing and sent a signal to Supefish: plain sailing from here on. Not quite that simple, of course. There's a job to be done, step-by-step. Another giant stride is taken. Michael Phelps (USA) blasted off his blocks, cruised into his stroke ahead of the pack and floated on butterfly towards a first turn that took him 0.57sec inside world-record pace. Bob Bowman's notes rang out with beautiful precision: 0.57sec, a sum that Phelps would race inside the world record pace three times during the 200m medley final that brought a sixth gold medal and sixth global standard.
Coach Bob Bowman once said: "I feel Michael's signature event is the 200m medley and he deserves to swim that to the best of his ability, not just to swim to win." Mission accomplished. On song.
Laszlo Cseh (HUN) collected his third silver medal behind Phelps, in 1:56.52, a European record and just 0.01sec ahead of Ryan Lochte (USA), who some 20mins before had claimed the 200m backstroke crown in a world record. Amazing - a perspective to all those many swimmers at these Games who pull out of the heats of race A in order to stay fresh for race B only to find themselves unable to make the grade.
The latest movement of the Eighth Symphony unfolded as follows:
What are the odds on Phelps swimming precisely 0.57sec inside his previous best throughout the entire race, deviating from that path by just 0.1sec after breaststroke? And speaking of breaststroke - what a split: 33.50, the fastest in the final and faster than the third-length split of three men in the 200m breaststroke final. Half a second from the speed of Kitajima, faster than Kitajima's homecoming split. The decibels gushing from Phelps here at the Water Cube are in danger of bursting the 3,000 breathable bubbles above and around us.
Bowman senses better than any where weakness may lie and we will hear his assessment of it all when he finally gets a chance to turn to the crowd and take a much-deserved bow. But it seemed today that Phelps is a man with no weaknesses.
Within five minutes of the race, Lochte was receiving his gold medal for the 200m bacsktroke; within 25mins Phelps was back on his blocks for the 100m butterfly semis, via a tour of the podium, another teary eyed salute to the Star Spangled Banner and pool parade. A slight delay was announced to allow Phelps his statutory rest period of 20 minutes. In 50.97, Phelps did just enough to take him into the final.
As for Cseh, the race brought a third silver behind Superfish, an amazing feat in itself, to race knowing that gold will rely on a lightning strike on a pinhead.
Cseh could be forgiven for giving in. He did not such thing, of course. "I always try, always go for the win, of course, but the reality is that at the moment he is unbeatable. I'm not going to lack motivation. It's always been the case that I wanted to beat him. I always aim for his times as my target. That is going to continue to motivate me. I think he can be beaten and I want to beat him." I'm satisfied with those three silvers. I don't feel like I missed out on something. I felt like I could have got a better time in this one (200 IM) but that's what I could manage this time, maybe next time I can do better, I feel I have more inside me."