- Bonnie D. Ford, ESPN Senior Writer
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LONDON -- A quick look at the action from the London Aquatics Centre on Thursday night:
End of the road
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte faced off in the 200-meter individual medley in what is almost certainly the last head-to-head meeting in a rivalry that captivated the world. In a thrilling race that lived up to its billing, Phelps won in 1:54.27, 0.63 seconds faster than Lochte, to earn his 16th Olympic gold medal (and 20th overall) and became the first swimmer to win the same individual event in three straight Summer Games.
The pesky breaststroke leg was the key for Phelps, but he out-split Lochte at every turn.
Both men did a double Thursday night. Lochte took bronze in the 200 backstroke and Phelps qualified first in the 100 butterfly semis just a few minutes after the 200 IM medals ceremony. There will almost certainly be a conversation about whether Lochte took on too many events in London, but that shouldn't diminish Phelps' accomplishment.
Phelps admitted to losing considerable motivation after his eight-gold-medal bonanza in Beijing four years ago, and who knows if he would have found that incentive had it not been for Lochte's emergence and superior performances over much of the past couple of seasons. The question now is whether anyone will be able to push Lochte the way Phelps did.
Tyler Clary, so long third fiddle to Lochte and Phelps, bested Lochte in the last 50 meters to win the 200 backstroke in an Olympic-record time of 1:53.41, while Lochte faded to third. Clary pointed to the sky after he touched the wall, a tribute to his late club coach in Fullerton, Calif., Kevin Perry.
Rebecca's Soni day
After setting a world record in Wednesday's 200 breaststroke semifinal, two-time defending Olympic champion Rebecca Soni bettered it by 0.41 seconds to become the first woman to repeat in the event.
Best of the rest
For Jessica Hardy, it was almost enough just to be there. Hardy, who was denied the chance to compete four years ago after a tainted supplement led to a positive doping test, didn't even expect to qualify in the 100 freestyle at the U.S. trials (she began her career as a breaststroker), yet she still made the final here and finished eighth. Missy Franklin, meanwhile, came in fifth in an event that is not her strongest. The two U.S. men in the 50 freestyle, Cullen Jones and Anthony Ervin, qualified for Friday night's finals in first and third position, respectively.