Michael Phelps swam into history on Tuesday, becoming the most successful Olympian of all time as a 4x200m freestyle relay gold gave him a record 19th medal after silver in the 200m butterfly.
“This has been an amazing ride,” said Phelps, whose record of 15 Olympic gold medals includes eight from the Beijing Games.
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. I just wanted to thank them for allowing me to have this moment. 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 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 freestyle relay victory.
“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.
From 4pm, Taiwan’s Tan Ya-ting goes for a gold medal in the women’s individual competition.
From 6pm, Taiwan’s Chuang Chih-yuan faces Wang Hao of China in their men’s singles semi-final.
From 2:30am in the morning, the finals of the women’s 200m breaststroke, the men’s 200m backstroke, the men’s 200m individual medley and the women’s 100m freestyle.
For most of the butterfly, it looked like Phelps would make his record-equaling 18th career medal yet another gold, but Le Clos, third at the final turn, plunged past Phelps at the finish to win in 1 minute, 52.96 seconds.
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 0.05 seconds back in 1:53.01, with 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.”
Phelps has dominated the 200m fly for a decade. He owns the four fastest times in history and his world record of 1:51.51 is more than one second faster than the second-best performer in history.
“Just to be next to him in the final was an honor itself,” Le Clos said. “I wanted to try and beat him, but when it happened in the final 25m, I couldn’t believe it.”
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 very talented kid,” Phelps said.
Phelps will have two more chances at an Olympic treble in the 100m butterfly and the 200m individual medley.
His training partner, Allison Schmitt, won the women’s 200m freestyle, powering home in an Olympic record of 1:53.61 ahead of France’s 400m freestyle gold medalist Camille Muffat (1:55.58) and Australian Bronte Barratt (1:55.81).