All eyes are on Michael Phelps, but the #PhelpsFace is focused on one man only: Chad le Clos.
Last night, two rivals faced off in the semi-final of the 200m butterfly, one of the most anticipated races of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The ongoing rivalry between team USA’s golden boy and the South African powerhouse was sparked in the London 2012 Olympics, when le Clos out-touched Phelps by five one-hundredths of a second.
Losing the gold medal may have cast doubt in the mind of the greatest swimmer of all-time, who already felt as if he had “[bitten] off more than [he] could handle in 2012,” but all that self-doubt is gone now. “I’m back to being the little kid who once said anything is possible,” Phelps told Sports Illustrated. “You’re going to see a different me than you saw in any of the other Olympics.”
Last night, we certainly saw a different side of Phelps.
The 31-year-old, 19-time gold medalist looked positively ferocious last night in the warm up room. Le Clos– who chose that time to do an impromptu shadow boxing routine– seemed oblivious to the death-stares Phelps was shooting him. Phelps’ angry twitches quickly gained the attention of both fans and commentators, who compared the #PhelpsFace to that of “a growling dog.”
The hastag #PhelpsFace has become an internet sensation, with thousands of memes on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
But Phelps wasn’t the only American athlete with his #GameFace on.
The warm up room was once again cold as ice as 19-year-old Lilly King and Russian Yulia Efimova waited to swim their 100m breaststroke final.
King had been outspoken about her contempt for “cheater” Efimova who had been allowed to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics despite the IOC’s supposed crackdown on Russian dopers and Efimova’s personal history of performance-enhancing drug abuse. The 24-year-old Russian tested positive earlier this year for the drug meldonium and a previous 16-month drug ban.
King watched the live feed of Efimova’s semifinal race on a monitor on Sunday and responded to the Russian’s now-infamous finger wag with a mirrored finger wag of her own. “You’re shaking your finger No 1, and you’ve been caught for drug cheating,” said King. “I’m just not a fan.”
King went on to win her own semifinal in the 100m breaststroke and draw worldwide attention to Monday’s final matchup.
In the warmup room before the final race, the tension was palpable and King’s disdain for Efimova was evident. The two refused to acknowledge each other, staring straight ahead, mentally preparing for what will likely go down in history as of the most memorable races of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
As the two stepped on the pool deck, both most certainly had their game faces– perhaps not as intense as the #PhelpsFace, but a symbolic countenance nevertheless.
King said that when she swam her race it was about more than just winning for herself or for Team USA– it was about making an anti-doping statement.
“It’s incredible, just winning a gold medal, and knowing I did it clean,” King said after the final.