Ryan Hurley, NBC Olympics
LONDON – Two world records and another three Olympic records fell at the London Aquatics Centre on Wednesday night, but there was one record that again remained elusive. For the second time in one week, Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima missed his opportunity to make history when he finished fourth in the 200m breaststroke.
Kitajima came into London with the expectation of becoming the first male swimmer to ever win the same event in three consecutive Olympic Games. He had two chances – the 100m breaststroke on Sunday and the 200m breaststroke on Wednesday – as he had previously swept the breaststroke events at the Athens and Beijing Games.
Joining him in attempting this feat was the same man who won eight gold medals in Beijing – Michael Phelps. The only difference was that with all of the hardware that Phelps captured during the 2004 and 2008 Games, he would have four chances at this record.
Five days into the London Olympics, both of these extraordinary swimmers have each had two attempts at the three-peat, and combined they are staring down a record of 0-4.
Phelps made his first attempt in the 400m IM, and after running away with the titles at the two previous Olympics, he dropped off the podium to fourth. Kitajima fell to fifth in the 100m on the second day, before Phelps was out-touched to place second in the 200m butterfly on day four.
This was not devastating for Phelps, as he still has two more attempts at the record, and just earned the title of the most decorated Olympic athlete of all-time, with 19 Olympic medals. On the other hand, Wednesday night was the moment of truth for Kitajima as he went for his final attempt at history in London.
Like the remarkable competitor that he has proven himself through the past eight years, Kitajima took his race out daringly, knowing that if he were to fend off Hungary’s Daniel Gyurta he would need to be well ahead heading into the last 50 meters. It was not meant to be, and the end result was Gyurta breaking the world record and Kitajima fading to fourth.
A feat that only a week earlier seemed quite doable for two of the most outstanding Olympians in our modern time has now fallen permanently out of reach for one, and is very much in question for the other.
The onus is now on Phelps to take down his second milestone in London, only now in perspective, this record is no longer a sure thing. He will first compete in the 200m IM final on Thursday night, against Ryan Lochte, who holds the world record in that event. If he is again dethroned there, his last chance will be in the nail-biting 100m butterfly on Friday, a race he won by 0.04 seconds in Athens and 0.01 seconds in Beijing.
The added elusiveness of this three-peat has made it that much sweeter of a prize. Tune in on Thursday night to see if the most decorated Olympian ever can win his first individual gold in London, and again make swimming history.
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