Michael Phelps does not dominate or even contest every swimming discipline in international competition. The butterfly is his most famous stroke and individual race, and he has routinely cleaned up in freestyle. But he has only medaled in backstroke once. That was 10 years ago. And in no year has he participated in breaststroke on a global stage.

So, of course, it was those two styles that propelled him to the lead of the men's 200-meter individual medley final Thursday night, an event he wound up winning with a time of 1:54.66, almost two seconds faster than his closest competitor.

Phelps trailed Brazil's Thiago Pereira after the fly leg, but caught him on the backstroke. He then took the lead on the breaststroke, making the final 50, the freestyle leg, academic.

"He went on that backstroke. He really put the metal down," NBC's Rowdy Gaines, himself a three-time Olympic gold medalist, said of Phelps after the race. "And then on the breaststroke … I can't believe this breaststroke split. Better than I've ever seen him look—in 16 years!"

Amazing, considering that Phelps has gingerly climbed out of the water after multiple competitions this week as if to indicate fatigue. There must be a Yoda effect. The most decorated Olympian and multiple-time gold medalist in history—with 13 individual golds, he has surpassed Leonidas of Rhodes, who competed more than two millennia ago—has turned on the jets in the water.

About a half-hour after winning the medley, Phelps had to secure a spot in Friday night's 100-meter fly final. After the opening 50, he was eighth out of eight. After the final 50, he was second. He safely advanced. When asked how the race felt, he had a single word.

"Hurt," he said in a post-race interview. "I knew it was going to be painful. But just getting into the final is all I wanted to do."

All's well that ends well. He now has an opportunity to capture gold medal 23 overall—and he could make it 24 on Saturday night, when he's expected to race the 4x100-meter medley relay for the Americans. For now, he's sitting on 22.

"Being able to win 22 gold medals, it's something you just dream of," Phelps said Thursday.

Someone must've invited him to "dream bigger" somewhere along the line.