LONDON, Aug 1 (AFP): Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time, the US 4x200m freestyle relay gold giving him a 19th medal after bittersweet silver in the 200m butterfly.
Phelps� record of 15 Olympic gold medals includes eight from his spectacular Beijing Games campaign as well as six from Athens in 2004. He also won two bronze in Athens and has won two silver in London.
South Africa�s Chad le Clos denied Phelps� bid for a 200m butterfly treble by a hair yesterday, 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 the 4x200m free relay gold ahead of France and China.
For most of the race, it looked like Phelps would make his 18th career medal gold.
But Le Clos, third at the final turn but clinging stubbornly to Phelps and Takeshi Matsuda, relentlessly pressed his challenge and 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 Matsuda settled for bronze in 1:53.21.
Le Clos, 20, thrust his body out of the water in delight upon seeing the scoreboard. Then he perched on a lane rope with his head in his hands as he tried to absorb his achievement in his first Olympics.
Phelps has dominated the 200m fly for a decade. He owns the four fastest times in history and his world record of 1min 51.51sec is more than one second faster than the second-best performer in history.
When he saw the result, he flipped his cap away in disappointment before heading for the side of the pool. But he was gracious in congratulating le Clos.
�He�s a hard worker and he�s a very talented kid,� Phelps said.
�I was on the other end of that finish four years ago,� Phelps recalled of his scintillating victory by one one-hundredth of a second over Milorad Cavic in the 100m butterfly in Beijing.
�I can�t be too upset - 1:53 flat is a decent time for me but the most important thing was coming back together with this relay and this group of guys,� he told the BBC.
Lochte, Dwyer and Berens staked anchor swimmer Phelps to a big lead, and he made it stand up against French revelation Yannick Agnel. It was Agnel who ran down Lochte on the final lap to give France a 4x100m free relay victory.
�After the 400 free relay we obviously wanted to tie something together and we did it.
�First gold medal of the meet, so I�m very happy,� added Phelps, who had looked almost sheepish as he ascended the second step of the podium and acknowledged the cheers for his butterfly silver. Phelps will have two more chances at an Olympic treble in the 100m butterfly and in the 200m individual medley.
Phelps not the only man with a chance to achieve the feat, with Japan�s Kosuke Kitajima giving himself an opportunity Tuesday as he made it safely into the final of the men�s 200m breaststroke.
Phelps� training partner Allison Schmitt won the women�s 200m freestyle, taking control by the halfway stage and powering home in an Olympic record of 1:53.61 ahead of France�s 400m free gold medallist Camille Muffat (1:55.58) and Australian Bronte Barratt (1:55.81). �I am speechless,� said Schmitt, an unusual state for the light-hearted swimmer that Phelps has credited with making training fun again.
American Missy Franklin finished fourth, unable to add to the 100m backstroke gold and relay bronze she has already claimed in an ambitious seven-event campaign and world record-holder Federica Pellegrini of Italy was fifth. Chinese 16-year-old Ye Shiwen shrugged off a cloud of doping speculation to complete a medley double, winning the 200m IM in an Olympic and Asian record of 2:07.57.
Ye, whose storming finish in a world record-setting 400m medley win was greeted with suspicion, set aside the controversy and held off Australian Alicia Coutts (2:08.15) and American Caitlin Leverenz (2:08.95) for the title.
�I didn�t feel upset or sad about what the media have been saying about me,� Ye said. �I felt calm, but it just encouraged me to prove myself.�