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By John Lohn
LONDON, July 31. HE made history again Tuesday night. Altering the record books is what he's always done best.
As of 9 o'clock in London, no man or woman in the history of the Olympic Games had won more medals than Michael Phelps. With two more added to his collection, his total moved to 19, one more than the mark of Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina from 1956-64. The bittersweet aspect of the night was the color of the medals. One was gold. The other was silver.
For the third time this week, the opportunity for the first man to three-peat in an event at the Olympics came and went, and for the second time, Phelps was the person missing out. Rather than reel in a rival, it was Phelps on the receiving end of a comeback. The work was handled by South African Chad Le Clos, who outsplit Phelps 29.20-29.83 on the final lap and prevailed in 1:52.96, compared to the 1:53.01 of Phelps. A horrendous didn't help Phelps and seemed to stunt his momentum.
An hour later, though, that race was in the past, and Phelps was back into smile mode, huddling with teammates Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens to celebrate their victory in the 800 freestyle relay. In garnering his 19th medal (15 gold, two silver, two bronze), Phelps was the anchor of the squad, splitting 1:44.05 to bring the Americans to the wall in 6:59.70. It was special that Phelps popped one of his best swims of the week for his history-making medal.
As recently as this week, Phelps stated that he wasn't concerned with the overall medal record, saying it was a media fascination. The bit of emotion he showed on the podium says otherwise. Either way, it is a remarkable accomplishment. It is a testament to his longevity, and his ability to handle workloads that few others are willing to consider, let alone attempt. Will the standard ever be broken? It's hard to see that happening.
In some ways, Phelps is the victim of his own success. No matter what he did here, it wasn't going to match what was witnessed in Beijing. Therefore, Phelps was going to be considered a failure. Those lacking knowledge about the sport are stating such things back home, a difficult assessment for someone who enters Day Five of the Olympics with three medals.
Phelps, too, is suffering from his raising the bar to greater heights. In order to stay with Phelps, or perhaps defeat him, the opposition worked harder to narrow the gap. They wanted to take down a legend. Basically, Phelps showed the world what is possible. Just ask Le Clos.
“It's been a dream of mine ever since I was a little boy,” he said of his gold medal. “I just wanted to race Phelps in the final, and I've beaten him. I can't believe it. Phelps is my hero and I love the guy. To beat him, I can't believe it. You don't understand what this means to me. This is the greatest moment of my life.”
For Phelps, the night was historic, too. There was just a slight twist.
Michael Phelps Olympic Rundown
1 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay 6:59.70
2 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay 3:10.38
2 200m Butterfly 1:53.01
4 400m Individual Medley 4:09.28
? 100m Butterfly
? 200m Individual Medley
? 4 x 100m Medley Relay
1 200m Freestyle 1:42.96
1 100m Butterfly 50.58
1 200m Butterfly 1:52.03
1 200m Individual Medley 1:54.23
1 400m Individual Medley 4:03.84
1 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay 3:08.24
1 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay 6:58.56
1 4 x 100m Medley Relay 3:29.34
1 100m Butterfly 51.25
1 200m Butterfly 1:54.04
1 200m Individual Medley 1:57.14
1 400m Individual Medley 4:08.26
1 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay 7:07.33
1 4 x 100m Medley Relay 3:30.68
3 200m Freestyle 2004 1:45.32
3 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay 3:14.62
5 200m Butterfly 1:56.50
**There was some really good news for the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, however. Reversing her silver medal to Camille Muffat in the 400 free, Allison Schmitt crushed the field in the 200 freestyle, producing a textile-best time of 1:53.61. For Schmitt, it was the culmination of a year in which she rose from a first-rate performer into a global star.
Schmitt executed her plan to perfection to earn Olympic gold, opting to redshirt from the University of Georgia while training under Bob Bowman at NBAC. There were several trips to Colorado Springs for altitude training, along with work on the entire range of freestyle. Obviously, the game plan came together.
**Apparently, the buffoonery of Brazil rubbed off on the Russian coaching staff. Following the Brazilian's failed qualification for the final of the 400 freestyle relay, due to holding out Cesar Cielo, Russia failed to advance to the final of the 800 free relay on Tuesday morning. Why? Well, the staff didn't race two of its best 200 freestylers.
Finishing 10th in the preliminaries with a time of 7:11.86, Russia found itself .22 shy of making the medal round. The team consisted of Artem Lobuzov, Evgeny Lagunov, Mikhail Polishchuk and Alexander Sukhorukov. The missing, and guys who would easily made a difference, were Danila Izotov and Nikita Lobintsev.
The Russians were expected to challenge for a medal in the event, making the blunder that much worse. When will coaches learn not to flirt with danger in the preliminary round if there is the slightest possibility of being on the cut line?
**Call the semifinal of the 100 freestyle a major step forward for Australian James Magnussen, the favorite in the event who has been trying to find his way. Off a poor showing in the 400 freestyle relay and a shaky effort in the prelims of the 100 free, the Missile got it together. Magnussen heads into the final as the top seed with a clocking of 47.63, comfortably ahead of the 47.97 of Nathan Adrian.
Magnussen delivered just what he needed, both for his confidence and to quell the doubts which had arisen about his ability to handle the pressure of the Olympic stage. Now, he can go into the medal race surging, rather than questioning what was wrong.
**The British love their gambling and some of the buzz before the evening session surrounded the betting odds on China's Ye Shiwen to capture the gold medal in the 200 individual medley. Ye went off as a 1-66 favorite, which are unheard of odds. For those unfamiliar with sports betting, those numbers mean an individual must bet $66 to win $1.
For comparison, Michael Phelps went off as a 4-7 favorite in the 200 butterfly and Missy Franklin was a 4-1 choice in the 200 freestyle. You can see odds from the Olympics on a number of bookmaking websites, including William Hill (www.williamhill.com).
**Here is our nightly wrapup of the regional medals. The Pacific Rim extended its lead to 20 medals, four more than the Americas. Europe remain comfortably in the third position with nine and Africa follows with two.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn