The utter dominance of Michael Phelps has been the reigning story of the Rio 2016 Olympics — and his most memorable moment on social media has probably been the meme-tastic snapshot of the swimmer preparing for his 200 meter butterfly semifinal, with rival Olympian Chad le Clos just a few feet away from him. South Africa’s Le Clos, who at the same moment was shadowboxing as his own preparation, beat Phelps at the same event in 2012.
But Phelps beat him this time, and the internet went crazy for the intense look, quickly giving it its own name — #PhelpsFace — and spawning a steady stream of jokes, memes, and a tattoo. But what was really going on when Phelps made the now-iconic expression?
“I just had music going on in my head. I had thoughts going on in my head, spitting water a little bit all over the place, so I was in my own zone,” the 28-time Olympic medalist told TODAY on Tuesday. “I was not intentionally mean mugging him or giving him a dirty look.”
So there you have it, straight from the source: it wasn’t actually a death stare aimed at Le Clos after all. Just the look of concentration that the Greatest Olympian of All Time musters when he prepares to break records in his swan song to the sport.
See the face and some of his other best Olympics faces below.
More Must-Reads From TIME
- Inside the White House Program to Share America's Secrets
- Meet the 2024 Women of the Year
- East Palestine, One Year After Train Derailment
- The Closers: 18 People Working to End the Racial Wealth Gap
- Long COVID Doesn’t Always Look Like You Think It Does
- Column: The New Antisemitism
- The 13 Best New Books to Read in March
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org