Until last night, only two athletes – both female – had achieved the incredible “three-peat” feat: winning the same Olympic event in three consecutive Games.
Between 1956 and 1964, Australian swimming great Dawn Fraser defended her title in the 100m freestyle, becoming the first woman in history to achieve this event trifecta.
Hungarian swimmer Krisztina Egerzegi, a five-time individual Olympic medallist, was the reigning 200m backstroke champion between 1988 and 1996.
After winning the 200 individual medley in London and upping his Olympic medal haul to an impressive 20, American phenom Michael Phelps has joined this prestigious group.
"To be able to win the gold medal and repeat three times is something pretty special," Phelps told NBC. "I'm pretty pleased with gold."
Getting to this point hasn’t come easy for the 27-year-old swimmer, whose London experience hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as expected. He placed fourth in the 400 individual medley and missed his first opportunity to achieve the three-peat honour in the 200m butterfly when South Africa’s Chad le Clos outtouched him by .05 seconds.
Phelps has publicised his plans to retire from professional swimming after the London Games, citing the first two years of his post-Beijing training as simply “going through the motions.”
“After 2008, I just didn’t want to do it,” Phelps told the Ames Tribune. “I knew deep down inside I wanted to, but I didn’t want to put in the work. There were times I didn’t come to practice. It didn’t excite me.”
For Fraser, achieving the three-peat feat was a challenge for a different reason: seven months before the 1964 Tokyo Games, she was in a devastating car accident that chipped vertebrae in her back and claimed the life of her mother.
“I didn’t really want to swim in Tokyo,” Fraser said in a later interview. “If it hadn’t been for my team members who supported me greatly... [they] motivated me.”
Fortunately for both swimmers, they successfully found the inner strength they needed to make history.
Phelps, already the most decorated Olympian of all time, will have a shot at a second three-peat in the 100m fly – if he can hold off le Clos, who pipped him in the prelims.
"I'm perfectly pleased with that," Phelps said. "I was able to finish pretty well. If I can push the first 50 over the next hopefully two swims, that will be good."