Analysis: Men's 200m Butterfly
Craig Lord
One epic journey ended here. Michael Phelps (USA) becomes the most successful Olympic athlete ever on gold count. With five golds up to this point, Superfish has a career 11 gold medals

Beijing 2008:

  • 1. Michael Phelps (USA) 1:52.03 WR (25.36; 53.53; 1:22.75; 1:52.03)
  • 2. Laszlo Cseh (HUN) 1:52.70
  • 3. Takeshi Matsuda  (JPN) 1:52.97
  • Fastest field: Beijing 2008: 1:52.03 - 1:55.14 (bronze in Athens would not have been among the top 8)

Comparison fields:

  • Melbourne 2007: 1:52.09 - 1:58.15
  • Athens 2004: 1:54.04 - 1:57.48 

Facts going into the race:

  • World Record: 1:52.09 - Michael Phelps (USA), Melbourne, 28.03.07 
  • Olympic champion: Michael Phelps (CHN) 1:54.04 
  • World champion: Phelps 1:52.09

Impact of morning finals:

Minimal to the final outcome, though qualification for semis has never been so fast (of course). In a race that produced five new time entries in the all-time top 10, only one man raced slower than he did in the heats, namely Kaio Almeida (BRA).

Notes from the race:

One epic journey ended here. Michael Phelps (USA) becomes the most successful Olympic athlete ever. With five golds up to this point,  after victories in the 200m butterfly and the 4x200m freestyle with US teammates, Superfish has a career 11 gold medals to his name. Two more than Paavo Nurmi (FIN), Larysa Latynina (URS), Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis (USA). The butterfly final produced a world record of 1:52.03 but Phelps looked a little uneasy as  Laszlo Cseh (HUN) came home in 1:52.70,  a European record, and Takeshi Matsuda  (JPN) touched just behind that in an Asian record of 1:52.97. The reason soon became clear: Phelps's goggles had filled up with water. He had no idea how it happened but he coped and came through it. He threw the goggles off in disgust at the end of the race. one of his goals had been achieved: victory. But the other had not: "I couldn't see anything for the last 100, my goggles pretty much filled up with water, it just kept getting worse and worse through the race and I was having trouble seeing the walls to be honest. But it's fine, I wanted to break the record. I wanted to go 1:51 or better but for the circumstances, I guess it's not too bad." The performances of Cseh and Matsuda were stunning. The Hungarian wiped 5sec off his best, the Japanese 2secs off. Before Beijing, only Phelps had cracked 1:54. Now three are below 1:53 and four others in the final swam inside 1:55. Five men in the semi-final had an impact on the all-time top 10 and one other man in the final, Nikolai Skvortsov (RUS) in the semi: with a European record of 1:54.31, slower than the 1:54.16 of cheat Ioannis Drymonakos (GRE), who forfeited six months of results, including the European title, when he got suspended for doping. Cseh, of course, claimed that European record in the final.

Impact on all-time top 10 

  • 1:52.03 Phelps, Michael USA BEIJING F
  • 1:52.70 Cseh, Laszlo HUN BEIJING F
  • 1:52.97 Matsuda, Takeshi JPN BEIJING F
  • 1:53.86 Stovall, William G USA 
  • 1:54.16 Drymonakos, Ioannis GRE 
  • 1:54.31 Skvortsov, Nikolai RUS BEIJING S
  • 1:54.35 Burmester, Moss NZL BEIJING F
  • 1:54.35 Wu, Peng CHN BEIJING F
  • 1:54.38 Korzeniowski, Pawel POL F
  • 1:54.46 Tarwater, Davis USA F

All-time top 10, end 2007:

  • 1:52.09 Phelps, Michael USA 2007 
  • 1:54.56 Yamamoto, Takashi JPN 2004 
  • 1:54.62 Esposito, Franck FRA 2002 
  • 1:54.91 Wu, Peng CHN 2006 
  • 1:54.93 Korzeniowski, Pawel POL 2007 
  • 1:54.99 Shibata, Ryuichi JPN 2007 
  • 1:55.03 Malchow, Tom USA 2001 
  • 1:55.22 Pankratov, Denis RUS 1995 
  • 1:55.22 Skvortsov, Nikolai RUS 2007 
  • 1:55.35 Burmester, Moss NZL 2007 


Victory for Phelps extended the USA lead over the world in the event: nine Olympic titles (1956; 1960, 1968; 1972, 1976, 1992, 2000, 2004; 2008), with Australians and Russians claiming two each. Of the 42 medals on offer since 1956, 18 have gone to Americans, with Australia next best on five medals. The title had never been retained until Phelps decided that it was time to change the history of the event. The first Olympic crown went to William Yorzyk (USA) by the biggest winning margin ever. If he had something about him then, he kept the magic throughout his life: by 1984 he was a 57-year-old anesthesiologist capable of swimming 2:11 in a 200 yard butterfly race, a time faster than his best from a time when he led the world in his youth. 

  • Fastest: 1:54.03: Michael Phelps (USA), 2004
  • World Record wins: Mike Troy (USA), 1960; Kevin Berry (AUS), 1964; Mark Spitz (USA), 1972; Mike Brunner (USA), 1976; Jon Sieben (AUS), 1984; Michael Phelps (USA), 2008.
  • Biggest margin: William Yorzyk (USA), clocked 2:19.3 to win the inaugural crown in 1956, a time that left him 4.5sec ahead of Takashi Ishimoto (JPN). That margin may never be repeated again, perhaps, although Phelps won the world title in 2007 by 3.04sec.
  • Closest shave: Carl Robie (USA) claimed the title by just 0.3sec ahead of Martin Woodroofe (GBR) in 1968 in a final that saw Mark Spitz finish eighth. Since times to the hundredth became the norm, margins of 0.32sec and 0.36sec split gold and silver in 1976 (Mike Bruner and Steven Gregg, USA) and 1984 (Jon Sieben, AUS, and Michael Gross, FRG) respectively.