A lesson was learnt. Never doubt a champion.
The scene was set last night as the World held their breath to watch the biggest names in our sport prove yet again why they draw the biggest of crowds. Crowds that include sporting stars such as Kevin Durant, Klay Thomson and Bubba Watson.
Katie Ledecky is a champion.
The definition of a champion is “…a person who has surpassed all rivals in a sporting contest”. In fact Ledecky has never been surpassed in any major final she has started. So why doubt her? An unforced error.
After a disjointed looking semi-final the American did not look her normal imposing self as she was beaten rather compellingly by the smooth-stroking Sarah Sjostrom. This performance suggested a vulnerability from Ledecky that we had not seen before, causing a doubt in the minds of many (including us) as to whether she can win the Gold.
Fast forward twenty four hours to last night and Ledecky had something different to say. Leading from the front she split the field and Sjostrom was not able to handle the pace or bridge the gap in the final stages. Ledecky somehow found a huge 1.08 seconds to clock a finishing time of 1.53.73, a lifetime best, and enough to overhaul the powerful Swede and keep her unbeaten record intact.
This is what champions do. They find that little bit extra within themselves to overcome the rest and win. Katie Ledecky is a champion. It was ignorant and naïve to predict otherwise.
The Men’s 200 metre butterfly followed next. Billed as the rematch between great rivals. Four years ago Chad Le Clos shocked the world to beat Michael Phelps in London in this event, and the expressive Le Clos was very clear once Phelps came out of retirement two years ago that he wanted to repeat the feat against his idol.
The four lengths of butterfly is Phelps’ baby. A World Record at the early age of fifteen cemented this, and although there would have been a number of reasons to return to the sport in 2014, winning back the Olympic Gold in his 5th Olympic 200 Butterfly final would have been at the top of his list.
Going into the final it was clear that Phelps was not pleased with his form. He openly showed his frustration at his semi-final time of 1.54.12 and looked to tighten up and fade in the late stages. Maybe his age was catching up with him. Maybe he didn’t have what it takes anymore. Doubt was creeping into the minds of many. One thing was for sure, the 19-time gold medallist would have to raise his game to collect the next.
Then came the second mistake from Le Clos. The comments, the eye contact, the shadow boxing in the call room to entice the American hall-of-famer. Never challenge Phelps. Do not poke the lion. Ask his long term coach Bob Bowman; Phelps does not forget. It fuels him.
So what happened? You know what happened. Michael Phelps found something extra to post a time of 1.53.36. He scrapped and fought to hold off his rivals by the smallest of margins to take his super-human twentieth gold medal at his fifth Olympic Games. He dug deep; very deep.
As the star studded crowd erupted, Phelps turned after hitting the touch pad and realised his success. Victorious, he calmly mounted the lane rope, and slowly wagged his finger.
Not this time.
Adrenaline running through his veins taking in the applause, he blew the remaining water from his mouth high into the air. Territory marked. Message understood…
This is my house and don’t you forget it.