Four years after he climbed to the top of Olympic achievement, Michael Phelps took the last step he needed to reach the absolute peak.
The greatest swimmer of all time became the most-decorated Olympian of all time when he won a record 19th Olympic medal at the London Games on Tuesday.
With a little help from his American friends, Phelps won his first gold medal in London in the 4x200-meter freestyle less than an hour after a shocking defeat in the 200 butterfly, an event he has dominated for over a decade. South Africa’s Chad le Clos surged past Phelps in the fly down the stretch to out-touch him by .05 seconds and win in one minute, 52.96 seconds.
Phelps’ team mates threw their arms around him after the relay win and the crowd at London’s Aquatic Centre rose to their feet to witness the coronation of the Olympic king.
The record Phelps broke was held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won the last of her 18 Olympic medals in Tokyo in 1964.
Phelps won eight medals, six gold, in Athens in 2004 before winning a record eight golds in the meorable 2008 games in Beijing.
Until Phelps surfaced, no-one had come close to breaking her record in almost half a century but now the torch has been passed to the 27-year-old from Baltimore.
“I would have liked a better outcome in the 200 fly. Obviously it was my last one and I would have liked to win but .. it wasn’t a terrible time,” Phelps said. “I thank those guys for helping me get to this moment ... I just wanted to hold on. I thank them for allowing me this moment.”
While Phelps stood alone at the summit and surveyed everything below him, Chinese teenage sensation Ye Shiwen continued her rapid rise by winning the 200 individual medley.
The 16-year-old was in third place when she turned for home after the breaststroke leg, but overhauled her rivals on the final freestyle lap to complete the multi-discipline event in 2:07.57. The victory, ahead of Australia’s Alicia Coutts and Cal’s Caitlin Leverenz, capped a tumultuous day for the teenager.
Despite winning the world title last year, millions of people around the globe are watching her compete for the first time and she was the subject of intense scrutiny on Tuesday after an American swimming coach made thinly-veiled accusations of doping, which prompted an angry response by Chinese officials.
Allison Schmitt, who trains in Baltimore with Phelps, won the women’s 200 freestyle gold.