The gold medal was the Phelps’ 15th gold and 19th overall, giving him the most career medals in Olympic history and further imprinting his status as one of the most decorated athletes in American sports history. The previous record for all-time Olympic medals was 18, held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
Phelps, who won eight golds in eight events four years ago in Beijing, set the table for his record-breaking performance one hour earlier when he narrowly missed winning gold in the 200-meter butterfly. The 27-year-old Maryland native was neck-and-neck with Chad le Clos on the final turn, but the South African beat him to the wall by a mere .05 tenths of a second. Le Clos finished in 1:52.96, and Phelps (1:53.01) settled for his second silver of the competition.
“I was on the receiving end of getting touched out,” Phelps said. “On my last one I would have liked to win.”
Three days after the Americans settled for silver in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay when France’s Yannick Agnel overtook Lochte on the final leg, the U.S. slotted Phelps into the anchor position and the three-time Olympian never faded. France (7:02.77), which used Amaury Leveaux, Clement Lefert and Agnel from their gold medal-winning foursome, finished a distant second and China (7:06.30) won bronze.
“I thanked those guys for helping me get to this moment,” Phelps said “I told those guys I wanted a big lead, you better give me a big lead . . . It has been an amazing career but we still have a couple races to go.”
Phelps, largely relegated to the role of second fiddle by the media’s fascination with the brash young Lochte, has won three medals in four events in London — one more than his heralded American rival.
In the women’s 200-meter freestyle, American Allison Schmitt won gold with an Olympic-record time of 1:53.61. One night after winning gold in her first individual Olympic final, Missy Franklin narrowly missed the podium. She finished just .01 of a second behind Australian bronze medalist Bronte Barratt (1:55.81). France’s Camille Muffat (1:55.5) took silver.
American Caitlin Leverenz won bronze in the 200-meter individual medley but the event belonged to 16-year-old Chinese sensation Ye Shiwen who smashed the Olympic record with her time of 2:07.57 for her second gold in three days. Australia’s Alicia Coutts (2:08.15) edged Leverenz (2:08.95) for silver. American Ariana Kukors (2:09.83) finished fifth.