LONDON -- Given a nearly four-second lead by his teammates in the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay, Michael Phelps’s anchor leg turned into a victory lap.
Phelps became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all-time Tuesday night, collecting a gold medal in the relay after taking silver in the 200-meter butterfly earlier to give him 19 during his four Olympics.
He broke the record of 18 set by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina that which has stood since 1964.
Phelps got a huge assist from his teammates in the relay, including friend and rival Ryan Lochte, who gave the US a .98-second advantage after his leg. Conor Dwyer expanded it to 2.13 seconds, and Ricky Berens was strokes ahead of the field in finishing the third leg with a 3.88-second lead.
That left Phelps just 200 meters from history, and he took it from there, bringing home gold in 6 minutes 59.70 seconds.
While there was more celebration than suspense in the relay, the manner in which Phelps tied the record earlier in the night was unusual. At the last possible moment, his precious medal turned into a different precious metal when what looked like certain gold for virtually the entire race turned to silver with a fraction of a second remaining when South Africa’s Chad le Clos beat him to the wall by all of 0.05 seconds.
Le Clos won the event in 1 minute 52.96 seconds. Phelps, who led the entire race, came in at 1:53.01.
That plot twist was just the latest unusual one for Phelps so far in London, his fourth Olympics. The most shocking was his fourth-place finish in the 400 Individual Medley Saturday. Then, in the 400-meter freestyle relay Sunday, a shot at gold turned to silver when teammate and rival Lochte gave up the lead on the final leg.
But Tuesday, it was Lochte who helped give Phelps a head start on achieving his historic 19th medal.
Phelps personal medal count now stands at 15 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze. The 27-year-old has won two silvers and a gold in London after winning a record eight medals, all gold, in Beijing.