For all the buzz about what Michael Phelps had not done, it is equally buzzing about what he accomplished on Tuesday in London. After a disappointing silver-medal placement in the 200-meter butterfly earlier Tuesday, Phelps returned to the water to anchor the history-making 200-freestyle relay team to the gold medal. The final 10 meters of the race were like the leaders of the Masters walking up the 18th fairway toward the green. It was a coronation.
Phelps held onto a significant lead and delivered the United States another gold medal – the 15th of his career and the 19th time he has stood on an Olympic podium
He’s now alone in the overall medal count, having broken a tie with Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina as the most-decorated athlete in the history of the Games.
Phelps entered the night with 17 medals, wining silver in the 200-meter butterfly and then gold in the 4×200, swimming the two races a little over one hour apart.
Shortly before Tuesday night’s swim meet, Latynina told Yahoo! Sports that the medals she also won as a coach still separate her from Phelps.
“Do I think I am still the greatest Olympian?” she said in an interview translated by a Russian gymnastics federation official. “Why yes, but that is my opinion.
“Why do I think this? Well, I did not only compete in three Olympic Games and won many medals, but the Soviet Union team had very great success when I was the coach.”
Latynina won nine golds and 18 total medals in her career that spanned three Olympics, from 1956-64. The Soviet Union also claimed another 10 golds when she was coach during the 1970s. She also said Phelps has her respect.
“It is special what he has done,” Latynina said.
In a tribute to Phelps and recognizing the speed he showed in the 4×100 relay earlier in the games, U.S. coaches shuffled their 4×200 order, placing Phelps in the closing leg. It unfolded as dramatically as you would expect, with Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens giving Phelps a sizable lead going into the final 200-meters. Phelps went into the pool and was never challenged, stretching the lead in the first 150 meters and then going into the wall nearly 10-meters ahead of the French.