RIO DE JANEIRO -- Michael Phelps sat alone, thoroughly exhausted. He put his head in his hands and then motioned at his neck as though he had nothing left to give.
No need. His work was done. He had his 20th and 21st gold medals.
Phelps, 31, made up for one of the rare losses in his brilliant career by winning the 200-meter butterfly Tuesday night, a victory that sent him climbing into the stands to kiss his 3-month-old son, Boomer. An hour later, he returned to take what amounted to a triumphant victory lap in anchoring the 4x200 freestyle relay, with the crowd's deafening roar growing louder with every stroke.
"That was probably one of my most challenging doubles," Phelps said. "Doing a double like that is a lot harder than it once was."
It was another performance for the ages, but Phelps has done it so many times that nothing else would have been fitting. It came on a night when American Katie Ledecky picked up her second gold of the Rio Olympics on the way to what could be a historic run of her own in the pool.
Phelps has 25 medals in his career, with three more races in Rio to add to his almost unimaginable total. No other Olympian has more than nine golds.
"That's a lot of medals," Phelps said, shaking his head. "It's just insane."
The 200 fly was the one he really wanted, and it showed.
With challengers all around, Phelps simply wouldn't be denied. With his head nearly at the wall, he took one more stroke to make sure he got there first, with his arms slamming against the timing pad.
"Going into the finish, I said, 'If I have to take a half-stroke, I'm going to take a half-stroke,'" Phelps said.
That split-second decision got him to the wall ahead of everyone else by a mere four one-hundredths of a second.
When Phelps saw the "1" by his name, he held up one finger. Then he sat on a lane rope, egging on the roaring crowd at the Olympic Aquatics Center with both hands, before emphatically pumping his fist.
Tears welled in his eyes as he listened to the national anthem, until some of his buddies from Baltimore cracked him up by shouting "O" like they do before Orioles games at Camden Yards. During the customary stroll around the pool to pose for photographers, Phelps broke ranks and bounded into the stands to plant a kiss on his son and celebrate with fiancée Nicole Johnson and mom Debbie.
"I wanted to hold him longer," Phelps said. "It's good to see he's awake. He usually sleeps all the time."
Phelps held off Japan's Masato Sakai with a time of 1 minute, 53.36 seconds, but that number was of little concern. The only thing that mattered was beating everyone else.
"The last 10 meters were not fun," Phelps said. "My gosh, I thought I was standing still."
Four years ago, Phelps mistimed his finish in the wind-milling stroke he does better than anyone, and he glided to the wall for a little too long after the final whirl of his arms. That allowed Chad le Clos of South Africa to win gold in an event that Phelps had dominated for the better part of a decade.
Phelps retired after the London Games, so it looked like he wouldn't get a chance to make up for his defeat. But when he decided about a year later to start competing again, the 200 fly was clearly the title he sought more than any other.
"This is the race I really wanted back," he said.
Le Clos was in the final again. He was thoroughly inspired by his mother and father, who are both battling cancer and were in the stands cheering him on. But he finished fourth this time (1:54.06), behind bronze medalist Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary (1:53.62).
The relay was much less dramatic. Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte went out ahead of Phelps and handed a commanding lead to the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.
Phelps essentially spent the next 100 seconds or so soaking up the cheers. He was only the third-fastest swimmer on his team, but he was a full body length ahead of Britain's James Guy when he touched in 7:00.66.
The British claimed silver in 7:03.13, and Japan took the bronze in 7:03.50.
For Phelps, another retirement looms. This time, he can fade away with the gold he really wanted in the 200 fly.
"That event was kind of like my bread-and-butter," Phelps said. "That was the last time I'll ever swim it."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.