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Michael Phelps wins 18th and 19th medals, becomes most decorated Olympian ever

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 31, 2012 04:26 PM

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LONDON -- Given a nearly four-second lead by his teammates in the 4x200 freestyle relay, Michael Phelps's anchor leg turned into a victory lap.

Phelps became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all-time Tuesday night, collecting a gold medal in the relay after taking silver in the 200-meter butterfly earlier to give him 19 during his four Olympics.

He broke the record of 18 set by Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina that has stood since 1964.

Phelps got a huge assist from his teammates in the relay, including friend and rival Ryan Lochte, who gave the US a .98-second advantage after his leg. Conor Dwyer expanded it to 2.13 seconds, and Ricky Berens was strokes ahead of the field in finishing the third leg with a 3.88-second lead.

That left Phelps just 200 meters from history, and he took it from there, bringing home gold in 6 minutes 59.70 seconds.

While there was more celebration than suspense in the relay, the manner in which Phelps tied the record earlier in the night was unusual. At the last possible moment, his precious medal turned into a different precious metal when what looked like certain gold for virtually the entire race turned to silver with a fraction of a second remaining when South Africa's Chad le Clos beat him to the wall by all of 0.05 seconds.

Le Clos won the event in 1 minute 52.96 seconds. Phelps, who led the entire race, came in at 1:53.01.

That plot twist was just the latest unusual one for Phelps so far in London, his fourth Olympics. The most shocking was his fourth-place finish in the 400-meter Individual Medley Saturday. Then, in the 400-meter freestyle relay Sunday, a shot at gold turned to silver when Lochte gave up the lead on the final leg.

But Tuesday, it was Lochte who helped give Phelps a head start on achieving his historic 19th medal.

Phelps's personal medal count now stands at 15 golds, 2 silvers, and 2 bronze. The 27-year-old has won two silvers and a gold in London after winning a record-eight medals, all gold, in Beijing.

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2:45 p.m.: Allison Schmitt wins the US's first gold of the night, setting an Olympic record in the 200-meter freestyle in 1 minute 53.61 seconds. Teammate Missy Franklin barely misses out on a medal, finishing fourth, 0.01 seconds out of a bronze.

Here comes Phelps.

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*** CONTAINS SPOILERS IF YOU'RE ABIDING BY NBC'S SCHEDULE***

LONDON -- The United States gymnastics team owns the spotlight (and the top perch on the podium) thus far Tuesday.

But Michael Phelps has a chance to make it a day he will never forget as well.

With a victory in the 200-meter butterfly final (2:49 EST) at the London Aquatics Center, he will tie Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina as the most decorated Olympic athlete all time, with 18 medals. And should he and his teammates medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay approximately an hour later (3:51 EST), he will stand alone.

I'll have live updates throughout the swimming competition tonight, so stay right here.

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