LONDON - Agence France-Presse
Michael Phelps cements his place as the greatest Olympian in history, winning his 19th medal to surpass legendary Larisa Latynina’s previous mark
US team member Michael Phelps celebrates after winning gold in the Men's 4x200m Freestyle Relay Final during the London 2012 Olympic Games Swimming competition, London, Britain, 31 July 2012. EPA/HANNIBAL
Michael Phelps swam to history July 31, becoming the most successful Olympian of all time as a 4x200-meter freestyle relay gold gave him a record 19th medal after silver in the 200-meter butterfly.
“This has been an amazing ride,” said Phelps, whose record of 15 Olympic gold medals includes eight from his spectacular Beijing Games campaign.
He won six golds in Athens in 2004 along with two bronzes, and has won one gold and two silver medals so far in London.
South Africa’s Chad le Clos denied Phelps his bid for a 200m butterfly treble by a hair, but silver allowed the US
superstar the consolation of matching Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s record of 18 Olympic medals.
Phelps returned an hour later and teamed with Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens to capture relay gold ahead of France and China.
“I think the biggest thing I have always said is anything is possible,” Phelps said of breaking Latynina’s mark. “I put my mind on doing something no-one has ever done before and nothing was going to stand in my way.” Turning to his relay colleagues, Phelps said: “I told those guys I wanted a big lead in the last leg and they gave it to me. I just wanted to hold on. Before I got on the podium, I said ‘sorry boys I am not going to sing with you tonight’, there were too many emotions. I won’t get a word out”.
Lochte, Dwyer and Berens gave anchor swimmer Phelps a big lead, and he bettered French
“First gold medal of the meet, so I’m very happy,” added Phelps, who had looked almost sheepish when he ascended the second step of the podium for his butterfly silver.
For most of the butterfly, it looked like Phelps would make his record-equalling 18th career medal yet another gold.
But Le Clos, third at the final turn, plunged past Phelps at the finish to win in 1min 52.96sec.
Phelps, who had led at every turn in a quest to become the first man to win the same Olympic swimming event at three successive Games, was just five-hundredths of a second back in 1:53.01 and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda third in 1:53.21.
Le Clos, 20, was stunned to beat a swimmer he has considered a hero ever since he watched the Athens Games.
“The legacy he has left behind for swimming is fantastic,” le Clos said. “He has changed the way they look at the sport. Everyone knows Michael Phelps.Just to be next to him the final was an honor itself,” he added.
When Phelps saw the result, he flipped his cap away in disappointment. But he was gracious in congratulating le Clos.
“He’s a hard worker and he’s a talented kid,” Phelps said.