‘Don’t Poke the Bear’: Phelps Teaches Le Clos a Lesson

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Adam Pretty/Getty Images

Chad le Clos learned a very hard lesson on the world’s biggest stage: Don’t mess with Michael Phelps.

On Monday, cameras caught le Clos trying to get into the head of the world’s greatest swimmer by shadowboxing right in front of him in the pre-race room and then staring at him every chance he got as the two stood on the blocks before their semifinal race in the 200-meter butterfly. For his part, “Phelps stared" straight ahead or didn’t look at him at all in an attempt to avoid the shenanigans and focus on the race at hand.

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Instead, he let his swimming do the talking in the finals. He won his 20th gold medal of his career (and added a 21st less than an hour later, in the 4x200m freestyle relay) and reclaimed his throne in the 200-meter butterfly — a throne that le Clos snatched away from him four years ago in London.

Immediately after the race, Phelps gave a quick finger (a la Lilly King), possibly in response to all of le Clos' antics.

Phelps then put his arms in the air and soaked in all of the applause showering down on him from the crowd.

Lest we forget, Phelps did all of this with a stunned le Clos just one lane to his left.

Former U.S. Olympic swimmer Natalie Coughlin had some solid words of advice for the South African moments after the race. She shared them on Twitter.

Even worse for le Clos than failing to defend his gold medal? He finished fourth. That’s right, after all the build-up for a Phelps-le Clos finale, the South African didn’t even medal. 

Predictably, Phelps fans let him have it on social media. Here are a few examples:

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