Phelps and le Clos, a swimmer from South Africa, combined for perhaps the first certified meme of the Rio Games, but theirs is a relationship that was strained a while back. The rivalry dates to the 200-meter butterfly at the London Olympics, when le Clos stunned Phelps to win gold. It grew chillier when Phelps un-retired and decided to again compete in the event, a decision that le Clos, who is seven years younger than Phelps, took personally.
During the 2015 World Championships, Phelps was barred from competition because of a DUI arrest and, after winning the 100-meter fly, le Clos crowed, “Michael Phelps has been talking about how slow the butterfly events have been recently. I just did a time he hasn’t done in four years. So, he can keep quiet now.”
Phelps was nonchalant when asked about it by The New York Times. “Chad liked me, and then he didn’t like me,” Phelps said. “He said I was his hero, and then he was calling me out.”
On Monday night, memes spoke louder than all those words.
After the semifinal heat for the 200-meter fly Monday night, Phelps addressed le Clos’s dancing verbally. “Everyone has their own race strategy,” he said. “If that’s his, that’s his.”
They’ll settle this in the final Tuesday night, with Phelps in Lane 5, le Clos in Lane 6.
Over in the women’s division, King pointed out Sunday that Russia’s Efimova had failed two blood tests. King then beat her for the 100-meter breaststroke gold Monday, a feat she celebrated by slapping the water in Efimova’s lane then adding a bit of finger-wagging.
“It’s incredible — winning the gold medal and knowing I did it clean,” King said, calling out dopers. Asked about the post-race splash in Efimova’s lane, she said, “I think I just floated over that way. I wasn’t actually planning to hit the water in her lane. I just kind of hit the water.” King ignored Efimova, swimming over to hug her American teammate Katie Meili.
Efimova, who was reinstated from a doping ban for undivulged reasons just as the Olympics were beginning, was in tears after her loss.“For me, it’s very hard swimming today,” she said. “. . . I can’t understand what’s going on. Usually in Olympic Games, all wars stop, [but] this is not fair.”