Phelps Sets New Olympic Record With 19 Medals; America's Schmitt Wins Gold

Jul 31, 2012
Originally published on July 31, 2012 6:35 pm

The U.S. men's swimming team has won the 4x200m freestyle relay, in a race that also gave Michael Phelps a record 19 medals in the Olympics. He netted his 18th, a silver, earlier in the day.

Update at 4:05 p.m. EDT: For the relay final, the American team swam in the fourth lane, next to their greatest rivals, the French, who posted the fasted qualifying time. The French are led by Yannick Agnel, who soundly defeated Ryan Lochte and others in the men's 200m freestyle Monday.

Perhaps spurred on by that defeat, Lochte sprang out to a lead, swimming the first 50 meters in 51.17, fastest among starters. He maintained that edge for the first 100 meters and turned over a one-second lead to Conor Dwyer, with Germany, Australia, and France trailing. Dwyer preserved the lead before giving way to Ricky Berens.

By that time, France was surging, along with China. But anchoring the race was Phelps, who was denied a victory earlier by what looked like an irresolute approach to the wall. But he would not be denied this time, as the U.S. team finished with a dominating 6:59.70 time — beating the field by at least three seconds.

France took the silver medal at 7:02.77, and China the bronze at 7:06.30.

Our original post continues:

Michael Phelps has won a silver medal in the 200m butterfly at the London 2012 Olympics, coming in second to Chad Le Clos of South Africa. Phelps was timed at 1:53.01 to Le Clos' 1:52.96. The silver brings Phelps' total to 18 Olympics medals, tying the record held by gymnast Larisa Latynina.

Phelps led the race's first 100 meters, then faded a bit in the final leg. American Tyler Clary took fifth place, with a time of 1:55.06.

His race came just after the women's 200m freestyle final, in which American Allison Schmitt won a gold medal. In that event, Missy Franklin took fourth place, with a time of 1:55.82 — a single one-hundredth of a second behind Australia's Bronte Barratt, at 1:55.81.

Schmitt, 22, set a new Olympic record with her time of 1:53.61. It is the first gold medal for the Pittsburgh, Pa., native. Camille Muffatt of France won the silver medal.

For Phelps, the silver medal in the 200m butterfly ended a chance for an unprecedented "three-peat" gold medal performance by a swimmer in the same Olympic event.

Update at 3:28 p.m. EDT: Phelps has a chance to break Latynina's record later today, when he swims in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

Latynina, 77, was poolside to watch the men's 200m butterfly race. Latynina has said that she's resigned to lose her most-medals title to Phelps. But when asked by a Yahoo Sports reporter Tuesday about her feelings, here's what she said:

"Do I think I am still the greatest Olympian?" she said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports translated by a Russian gymnastics federation official. "Why yes, but that is my opinion."

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And finally this hour, we're going to give you some news about the Olympics. So avert your ears now if you're trying to avoid the details. OK. American swimmer Michael Phelps has become the most decorated Olympic athlete ever. Phelps won his 19th medal, a gold, in his second race of the day. NPR's Howard Berkes was there, and he's with us now from London. Hi there, Howard.


CORNISH: So the day ended well for Phelps, more on that in a minute, but how did it begin?

BERKES: Well, you know, it began with him needing two medals to have the most Olympic medals ever. And he was scheduled in two events today, and he was favored in the first of the two races, the 200-meter butterfly. He's the world record holder in that event, he's the Olympic champion, and he did lead the entire race until the very end when Chad le Clos of South Africa caught up, barely touched the wall first. And you may remember that four years ago in Beijing, the same thing happened, only it was Phelps who out-touched his opponent for the gold. So it was silver for Phelps. He was clearly upset about that.

CORNISH: Now, his record-setting race was the relay, right? Tell us about it.

BERKES: Yeah. The relay, which, this was a relay that involves four swimmers, each swimming 200 meters of freestyle. And Phelps had told us that he told his teammates: Give me a good lead, and, boy, did they. Teammate and rival Ryan Lochte swam the first leg. He shot right out at the dive, and he led it at a world-record pace. And by the time it came to Phelps, who swam the anchor leg, he was two-body lengths ahead of his nearest competitor.

That happened to be French swimmer Yannick Agnel who closed the gap. But Phelps held on for the gold, and, you know, that was his record, 19th medal. Phelps was asked if that's an untouchable record. He said nothing's untouchable.

CORNISH: And how long had that record stood?

BERKES: It's been 48 years. It was 1964 when a Ukrainian gymnast named Larisa Latynina - sorry, Larisa - 18 medals she had. And Phelps and Latynina had met a few months ago, and she encouraged him, you know, to break that record.

CORNISH: So what's next for Michael Phelps from London? What are the other races coming?

BERKES: Well, Phelps noted that himself after he broke the record. He says it's been an amazing career, but we have a couple of races left. And there are two coming up, the 200 individual medley on Thursday with some preliminary heats tomorrow. He's got a 100 meter butterfly on Friday. That's a race he usually does pretty well in.

I should say that he really looked relieved and loose tonight. He says he's relaxed, he's ready to tackle these final two races of his career, and they will be the final two races of his career. He's made it clear he's not going to do another Olympics. So even though he suffered a terrible loss earlier in the games, finishing fourth in a race, something that hasn't happened to him in the last two Olympics, he says he's ready to compete and maybe add to his record - his record-holder medals.

CORNISH: NPR's Howard Berkes talking with us about Michael Phelps' record-setting 19th Olympic medal. Thanks so much, Howard.

BERKES: You're welcome, Audie.


CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.