Michael Phelps is most successful Olympian

Mighty Phelps is most successful Olympian

14:00 AEST Wed Aug 13 2008
1 hour 46 minutes ago
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Three members of the winning relay team Ricky Berens, Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps.

Michael Phelps became the greatest Olympian in history today, capturing the 10th and 11th gold medals of his Games career in world record-setting style.

Phelps moved to the summit of Olympic achievement with his triumph in the men’s 200m butterfly.

His time of 1min 52.03sec shaved six-hundredths of a second off the world mark of 1:52.09 he set in winning the world title in Melbourne last year.

It was his fourth gold medal and fourth world record in Beijing’s Water Cube, to go with six golds won in Athens four years ago.

The 23-year-old American moved past Olympic icons Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and Larysa Latynina, who all won nine golds in their careers.

But Phelps didn’t stop there.

An hour later he returned to lead the United States to victory in the 4x200m freestyle relay in 6:58.56 – crushing the previous world mark of 7:03.24 set by a US squad at the the world championships in Melbourne last year.

“I’m pumped about our relay,” Phelps said. “We talked about breaking seven minutes and we had two guys who averaged 1:45 or better, they really did it and pulled it out for the team.”

With five golds and five world records through the first five days of swimming competition, Phelps continued his march toward another piece of Olympic history.

If he can win all eight of his Beijing events, he will surpass the record of seven gold medals at one Games set by US swimmer Spitz at Munich in 1972.

Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh was second in the 200m fly in 1:52.70, and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda took the bronze in 1:52.97.

Phelps’s triumph in an event in which he has owned the world record since 2001 wasn’t the same kind of dominant display as his victory in the 200m freestyle on Tuesday, but Phelps said there was a reason for that.

“My goggles were filling up with water during the race, and I had trouble seeing the wall,” he said.

“I wanted the world record. I wanted a 1:51 or better, but given the circumstances it’s not too bad, I guess.”

Phelps’s mammoth schedule means he has no time to contemplate his place in history.

“He won’t appreciate the history of what is happening here until later, maybe years later,” Phelps’s coach Bob Bowman said.

But the swimmer’s pursuit of immortality was turning heads.

National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Kobe Bryant, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James and other members of the vaunted US men’s basketball team were in attendance at the Water Cube today to watch him, following in the footsteps of US President George W. Bush.

They were rewarded with plenty of spectacular action as six world records fell.

All four finals produced world records, and the men’s 100m free world mark fell twice in the space of minutes in the semi-finals.

Italy’s Federica Pellegrini made up for her disappointment in the 400m freestyle with a world record-breaking triumph in the women’s 200m free.

The 20-year-old Italian, silver medallist in Athens, carved 0.63sec off the mark she set in the heats on Monday with a time of 1:54.82.

Slovenia’s Sara Isakovic was second in 1:54.97 — also under the previous world record — capturing the first Olympic swimming medal for her country.

China’s Pang Jiaying snagged the bronze in an Asian record of 1:55.05, while US star Katie Hoff was shut out of the medals, finishing fourth.

Australian Stephanie Rice improved her own world record with a time of 2:08.45 in the women’s 200m individual medley – completing a medley double that opened with a world-record win in the 400m medley.

Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry claimed her third silver of the Games in 2:08.59 – also under Rice’s previous world record of 2:08.92.

American Natalie Coughlin (2:10.34) added the medley bronze to her 100m backstroke gold while Hoff, yet again, was shut out in fourth.

The men’s 100m free semis produced a showdown for sprinting supremacy between Australian Eamon Sullivan and French rival Alain Bernard.

Bernard triggered the sensational exchange when he broke Sullivan’s world record of 47.24 seconds —set in the lead-off swim of Monday’s 4x100m freestyle relay final — by four-hundredths of a second in 47.20.

Sullivan’s reply in the second semi-final was bold and immediate, slicing a further 0.15secs off Bernard’s minutes-old record to reduce the world mark to an incredible 47.05 seconds.

Dutch star Pieter van den Hoogenband, who booked his place in a fourth straight 100m free final with the third-fastest time of 47.68, said he didn’t see any chance of becoming the first man to win the same Olympic swimming title three times in a row.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “It’s a new generation, a new way of swimming.”

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