Photo by Matt Slocum
LONDON — An Olympic swimming meet just wouldn't be the same without Michael Phelps making some sort of history and winning a gold medal.
Both occurred on Tuesday night, when Phelps struck gold in the men's 4 X 200-meter freestyle relay before a packed house at the London Olympic Aquatic Center.
Not only did the win enable Phelps to pile onto his Olympic record for gold medals (15), but it also made him the most decorated Olympian of all time with 19 medals, including the two silvers and two bronzes in his trophy case.
Phelps' gold medal kick in Tuesday night's relay propelled him past Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won 18 medals between the 1956 and 1964 Olympics.
"I told the team to give me the biggest lead that they could," said Phelps, who inherited a nearly four-second cushion upon splashing into the water for the final leg. "I just want to thank these guys for allowing me to have this moment."
Ryan Lochte opened the relay by giving Team USA a one second lead it would never relinquish, as Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens stretched the margin out for Phelps.
It was a welcome sight for the greatest swimmer in the world. The games have been tough on Phelps - by his standards - prior to him winning his first gold in London. Earlier in the evening, Phelps lost in breathtaking fashion at the finish of the 200 butterfly to South Africa's Chad le Clos.
Phelps was seemingly in control with 25 meters to go, but le Clos closed with a powerful burst, edging out the Olympic legend when Phelps found himself awkwardly caught between strokes just before touching the wall.
"I've watched all of Phelps' races since the 2000 Olympics, and I just remember how he always finished strongly," said le Clos, who set an African record with his 1:52.96 finish - 0.05 seconds ahead of Phelps.
"I felt like I was him that last 50 -- I was Phelps -- this is the greatest moment of my life."
Phelps, who was bidding for his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 200 fly, wished le Clos well and told him to enjoy the moment before turning his attention to making history in the 4 x 200 freestyle relay.
Team USA sprinter Nathan Adrian enters today looking to find a place in the history books himself in the 100 freestyle.
Adrian is trying to become the first U.S. male swimmer to win the 100 freestyle since Matt Biondi in 1988.
Adrian qualified second for tonight's finals, winning his semifinals race with a 47.97 dash. Australia's James Magnussen was only slightly faster in the other semifinal, 47.63.
Adrian admits breaking Team USA's 24-year drought in the event has been in the back of his mind leading up to the Olympics.
"That's something I use to motivate myself in training, but once it comes down to a meet like this, it adds a lot of external pressure I don't want to deal with," Adrian said following his semifinals swim Tuesday night. "I think of all my competitors and what they are doing to get better, and then once I get here, it's me and a 50-meter pool and a lane."
U.S. women picked up two more medals Tuesday.
Allison Schmitt set a new Olympic record in winning the women's 200 freestyle in 1:53.61.
But while Schmitt pulled away for the victory, U.S. teammate Missy Franklin lost out on a bronze medal in heartbreakingly close fashion, getting outtouched at the wall by Australia's Bronte Barrett - 1:55.81 to 1:55.82.
China's Ye Shiwen set an Olympic record in winning the women's 200 individual medley in 2:07.57. Australia's Alicia Coutts drew silver and Team USA's Caitlin Leverenz brought home the bronze.