Michael Phelps earns golden place in Olympic history with his 19th medal

American becomes the most decorated Olympian with win in 4x200m freestyle

the Aquatics Centre

The first one came on a warm August night beneath the Athenian stars eight years ago, the 19th arrived last night beneath the signature curved roof of the Aquatics Centre and it made Michael Phelps the most decorated Olympian in history.

His 4x200m freestyle team-mates did the graft, pounding out a sizeable lead over the French, the nation who had snatched away US gold two nights earlier, and then Phelps did the rest. Behind him was Yannick Agnel, two freestyle golds to his name already, but there was no catching the greatest Olympian.

"I did start to smile when there were 20-25 metres to go," said Phelps. "It was a cool feeling. I set myself a goal of doing something no-one had ever done before and there was no way I was going to be stopped."

Phelps touched home to the loudest roar of the week. His own moment of history came as part of a team, a fitting finale for someone - still at 27 a young man - who for all the gold that hangs around his neck has never presented himself as anything other than a team man, in fact rarely presented himself as anything other than an easy-going boy from Baltimore. He has brought back episodes of The Wire with him to London to kill time in the athletes' village in between swims.

He now has three more Olympic medals to add to the 16 back home. That makes 19 and that is one more than Larisa Latynina, the Soviet gymnast who won nine golds, five silver and four bronze over the course of three Games from 1956. Fifteen of Phelps are gold.

Medal No 18 had arrived an hour earlier in the 200m butterfly but not as expected and in a manner that stirred a rare display of anger. The 200 fly is his signature event. This was supposed to have been his third successive triumph and he led from start until the final desperate reach for the finish when the 20-year-old South African Chad le Clos stretched to collect his very first Olympic medal.

It was another silver for Phelps, the second of this Games. He tore off his swim cap and threw it back down the lane. It was a night of curious contrasts, greatness mixed with another hint the power is finally fading.

Phelps is a human designed for the water. He is tall, 6ft 4in, but not outstandingly so in comparison to his rivals. There are instead two peculiarities; his wingspan, all 6ft 7in of it, and his body shape. He has proportionately short legs and a long torso, the ideal build for the dolphin kick, the power behind his path to the throne.

That opening night in the open-air pool in Athens had seen him lay down a monumental marker; a first Olympic gold collected in world-record time. It came in the 400m individual medley, the race that on Saturday had suggested the imminent arrival of mortality. "Horrible" was how Phelps described his first swim as he scraped into the final by 0.07sec. He never featured as Ryan Lochte surged to gold and the doubts that accompanied him over the Atlantic bubbled to the surface of the Aquatics Centre.

Ever since he hauled himself out of the water in Beijing four years ago his commitment to a sport that has been his life since the age of nine has been questioned. He went home and enjoyed himself, a 23-year-old relishing the trappings of fame and fortune - his achievements were well rewarded. First stop was Caesars Palace in Las Vegas - where he crossed paths with the British rower Mark Hunter.

Hunter struggled for a time to find a way ahead after his gold in Beijing; many athletes talk of an emptiness once it is all done, four years of tough, physical, relentless grind followed by a flash of glory. And then what? For Phelps it was a problem magnified. He had 14 gold medals hanging around his neck.

But just as it is difficult to do, so it is even harder to let go. Phelps's results since Beijing - when he shed the extra pounds and dived back into the pool - are difficult to read. He won four gold at the world championship but - and that's the issue with Phelps version 2012 he comes with a but - it wasn't Phelps mark 2008.

Phelps's swims in London have been equally confusing. The horrors of the 400m IM on Saturday were followed by an explosive leg in the 4x100m relay while in the heats and semis for the 200m fly he managed to look both good and bad in the same race. Last night was much the same but shortly before 9pm that mattered not a jot.

"There were," he confessed afterwards, "so many emotions on the podium I couldn't even sing the anthem."

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 



Suggested Topics
Life and Style
LifeReddit asked a simple question with infinite answers this week
Life and Style
Pepper, the 3ft 11in shiny box of circuits who can tell jokes and respond to human emotions
techDavid McNeill tests the mettle of one of the new generation of androids being developed in Tokyo
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice