Michael Phelps breaks all-time Olympic medal record
He may be the man of heavy medal, the most decorated athlete in the history of the world’s most revered sporting event.
But for American superstar Michael Phelps, London 2012 is a little about gasping his way to his latest Olympic record rather than cutting the dominant swath that put him in position to do so.
Phelps broke the mark for most total Olympic medals won by any athlete on Tuesday night, visiting the podium for the 18th and 19th time in his sensational career. It started in mild disappointment when he finished second in his most dominant event, the 200-metre individual medley and ended with a teammate-assisted gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay in which he swam the rinal leg.
Each came with a downgrade on the “wow” scale, though the record-setter was met with a thunderous roar from the sellout crowd of 15,000 at the Aquatic Centre.
“I started smiling with 20 metres to go, it’s the first time I think I’ve ever done that in a race,” Phelps said of the record-setting dash. “I’m kind of at a loss of words right now. Everything that’s happening, being able to do something that nobody has ever done before ... that’s what I always said I wanted to do.”
Like pretty much everything that has unfolded so far in London, Tuesday had a tinge of disappointment for Phelps, who ripped his cap from his head after touching the wall in the butterfly and tossed it in disgust.
Phelps had dominated the race over the past 12 years, winning two Olympic golds and multiple world titles. But despite putting himself in good position, Phelps appeared to misjudge the wall as he glided to the finish and touched .05 seconds behind Frenchman Chad le Clos, who was clocked in 1:52.96.
“Obviously I would have liked to have had a better outcome in the 200 fly,” Phelps said. “I was on the receiving end of getting touched out. Obviously it was my last one and I would have liked to have won.”
Settling for silver in the butterfly denied Phelps the chance to become the first male to win an individual event at three consecutive Olympics.
With a trio of medals from these Games - a gold and two silver - Phelps has 19 medals spread over three Olympics, one more than Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, who wrang up her total in the 1950s and 60s. With three events left, the Phelps career count stands at 15 gold, two silver and two bronze.
In the relay, the result was never in doubt as Phelps’ teammates built up a huge lead of almost five seconds before his swim to glory.
Phelps will have two more opportunities to win a third Olympic gold among his three three remaining events - the 100-metre butterfly and 200-metre individual medley. His brilliant Olympic career will come to a close Saturday in the 4x100 medley relay.
There is a tendency to temper Phelps’ accomplishments this week, given the missing dominance, but it’s a sure sign standards set for him are impossibly high. He was never going to have a golden sweep here as he did in Beijing and by the time he’s finished, he’ll leave England with more medals won here than scores of entire nations in their history.
Though it’s tough to imagine his mark ever being eclipsed, Phelps sells the mindset that helped him get to where he is now - the most decorated Olympic athlete in history, a count that is sure to increase by Saturday night.
“Nothing is untouchable,” he said.