Michael Phelps causes a stir with celebratory finger - but was it a stance against drug cheats?
Michael Phelps caused a stir in the pool on Tuesday night after securing victory in the men’s Olympic 200m butterfly final in wrestling back the gold medal from rival Chad le Clos, with the American choosing to celebrate by wagging his finger towards the crowd.
Finger wagging suddenly became the hot topic of the Olympic swimming events when Phelps’s United States teammate Lilly King responded to Russian Yulia Efimova’s No 1 claim by wagging her finger at a television monitor showing her race.
King sparked a war of words with Efimova after she was cleared to compete at Rio 2016 at the last minute, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholding her appeal to a drugs ban without explanation. The finger wag became a controversial moment in the battle between USA and Russia in the pool, and Phelps weighed in with his beliefs on Monday night to back up King and claim that the sight of past drug cheats competing at the Olympics “breaks my heart”.
However, after regaining the 200m butterfly gold medal that he lost four years ago and holding off a spirited challenge from Japanese swimmer Masato Sakai – who took silver ahead of Hungary’s Tamas Kenderesi after pushing Le Clos back to fourth – Phelps looked at the camera before turning to the crowd and wagging his finger.
Was Phelps making his own stand against athletes who had taken performance-enhancing drugs in order to gain an unfair advanatage?
It’s unlikely. From the video footage, it appears that Phelps was celebrating in claiming that he was once again the No 1 in the world when it comes to his favoured event, the 200m butterfly. Phelps said afterwards that the race holds something special given that he made his Olympic debut in it 16 years ago at Sydney 2000, and while he has not confirmed it publicly, it’s widely known that his defeat in London by Le Clos was the main reason he postponed retirement until after the Rio Games.
"I was fired up," said Phelps. "I really wanted it back. I don't care about the time, I was just happy to win. I have watched 2012 back and it hurt. What happened four years stuck with me. It was frustrating.”
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He added: “I was just thinking, going back over the last 16 years. That event was my bread and butter and that is the last time I will swim at a Games. There wasn’t a shot in hell I was losing that race tonight. And if I did I was leaving everything in the pool. I’m just thankful. I wanted that one back.”
Phelps appeared to be looking up towards his family, where his fiancée Nicole Johnson and their three-month-old son Boomer were watching alongside his mother, Deborah.