The 23-year-old held off fast-finishing world champion James Magnussen over the last 50 metres and touched the wall 0,01 seconds ahead of the Australian to end a 24-four year drought for his country.
“I have to calm myself before these races,” Adrian said, explaining how he had approached the final. “I kind of think of it as a group of eight guys swimming any race you’ve ever swam before, and me trying to get my hand on the wall first, which I’ve done in the past.
“So I kind of touched the wall and thought ‘oh sweet, I won’.
“It takes about 10-15 seconds and then ‘Holy crap, it’s the Olympics’ and I’ve been watching this since I was a kid.
“It felt good.”
Adrian’s win would have been a bigger shock had he not also beat Magnussen in the lead-off leg of the 4x100m relay on Sunday, when he won a silver medal to add to the gold he won in Beijing four years ago as a heat swimmer in the same event.
Magnussen had been the red hot favourite for the individual title coming into the London meet, not least in his own opinion, and Adrian said that had suited him fine.
“I like being the chaser, I don’t like being the chased,” he said. “Everytime I saw that I thought, ‘great, they’re counting me out’.”
With the water still dripping off his body, Adrian looked at his hands as he contemplated his margin of victory in a dramatic race.
“They’re big I guess,” he said. “I had to swim my race, it was a little nerve-wracking that second 50 but I just really had to focus on it and stay strong.”
Adrian’s gold was the seventh in the pool for the United States and was quickly followed by another outstanding performance from an American when his team mate Rebecca Soni broke the women’s 200 metres breaststroke world record.
“Oh, Soni just set a record,” he said as he looked up at the television screen above the interview area, adding with a laugh: “It feels good now that I’ve been overshadowed by Soni setting a world record.”
In truth, Adrian is unlikely to be overshadowed, having become the first American man to win the blue riband title since his fellow Cal-Berkley alumnus Matt Biondi at Seoul in 1988.
“My life may change now,” he said.
“I’m just taking it all in.”
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