As Michael Phelps charged toward the pool wall during Tuesday’s 200-metre butterfly final, his eyes remained focused on the pool wall within reach.
For a split second his rival, South Africa’s Chad le Clos, turned his head to check how far ahead Phelps was. That — according to the Internet — was the moment he realized Phelps would take the gold.
This picture from Phelps’ so-called redemption race is spreading like wildfire on social media; many sharing it with inspiring quotes like, “Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.”
But the latest Olympic meme is just part of the story between Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos. In fact, their rivalry goes way beyond Rio.
July 2012: London Olympics
le Clos beat defending champion Phelps in the 200-metre butterfly final, taking the gold medal. He beat Phelps by five hundredths of a second.
After the London Olympics, Phelps announced his retirement from the sport.
Until then, Phelps was undefeated in international competition in the event.
April 2014: Phelps comes out of retirement
Phelps announces his return to the pool, but initially only entered three events — the 50 and 100-metre freestyle and the 100-metre butterfly. He does not enter the 200metre butterfly and vowed to never swim in the event again.
But, in May 2015, Phelps has a change of heart and re-enters the 200-metre butterfly event. Speaking to the media after a competition on May 15, 2015, Phelps criticized other athletes by saying “it’s still not that fast an event.”
August 2015: le Clos fights back
It was during the 2015 FINA World Championships that le Clos made things personal.
“He’s been talking a lot of smack in the media about how slow the butterfly is, so I just can’t wait until I race him,” the South African athlete told The Associated Press.
Phelps clocked the fastest time for the 200-metre butterfly that year during the World Championships. However, le Clos held onto his title as world champ in the 100-metre butterfly.
“I just did a [100-metre butterfly] time that [Phelps] hasn’t done in four years, so he can keep quiet now,” le Clos told Eurosport.
November 2015: “I’m not afraid of Michael Phelps”
In an interview with Sport360 magazine, le Clos admits that he was hurt by Phelps’ words and the way the media covered the spat between the two athletes during the World Championships — but he remained determined to compete against the world record holder.
“I’m not afraid of Michael Phelps. That’s what everyone keeps saying ‘oh you’re taunting him’. I’m not taunting nobody. I said before that I hope he’s in good form because I want to race the best and I’m not afraid to face him one on one,” le Clos said.
August 2016: Rio Olympics
The drama between Phelps and le Clos came to a head this month, as the two took to the pool in Rio.
It started when le Clos was spotted by cameras shadow boxing before the 200-metre butterfly preliminary race as Phelps sat in the background making this face:
Of course, that turned into a viral meme on it’s own dubbed #PhelpsFace.
Phelps then went on to place first in both the preliminary and final races, taking home the gold medal.