The gold medal that Michael Phelps won in the U.S. 4x200 metre freestyle relay in Tuesday’s final race at the Aquatic Centre made him the most successful Olympic athlete ever.
His overall tally now stands at 19 (15 gold, two silver and two bronze), surpassing the 18 that Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina achieved between 1956 and 1964.
“I think this just shows that hard work pays off. The biggest thing is that I have always said everything is possible. I put my mind to achieving something that has never been done before, I wanted to be the first Michael Phelps,” he said.
“It was emotional, a pretty cool feeling and great way to end the day,” he said.
Teammate Ricky Berens said that Phelps had gathered them after the race and said that he felt very emotional to have achieved that with them.
Even before the London Games, Phelps was by far the most successful Olympian in terms of gold medals, as the 14 he entered the games with were five more than Latynina, Finland’s Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis and Mark Spitz had won.
Phelps, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland, was diagnosed with ADHD in his youth and started swimming at the age of 7, partly because of his ailment and partly because his two older sisters also swam.
He has always trained under Bob Bowman, whom he first encountered at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and followed to the University of Michigan in 2004.
He first swam at the Olympics in 2000 when he was just 15. He became the youngest American male swimmer in 68 years and placed fifth in the 200m butterfly.
Shortly afterwards, he became the youngest male ever to set a world record, when he swam 1:54.92 in the 200m butterfly in March 2001, still three months shy of his 16th birthday.
Since then, Phelps has owned the world record — and on each of the seven occasions when it was bettered, it was Phelps who managed to do it.
Ironically, Phelps overtook Latynina at a competition, at which he has shown that he is not unbeatable.
In the very first final on Saturday, Phelps was beaten by compatriot Ryan Lochte in the 400m medley — his first defeat in an Olympic final since August 16, 2004, when he came third in the 200m freestyle in Athens.
Since then, Phelps had won 12 finals and received a gold medal for being a member of the victorious U.S. 4x100m medley relay team in 2004, although he did not swim in the final.
In the 400m medley, he failed to win medal as he finished fourth.
He did, however, pick up silver in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay with his team on Sunday and then added another silver in the 200m butterfly, where he was beaten by South African Chad le Clos, and gold in the relay on Tuesday to take him past Latynina’s tally.
Unlike Beijing, where he won an unprecedented eight gold medals from eight entered events, Phelps went into London with much less pressure.
He said shortly before the start of the competition that it was up to him to decide what was going to happen.
“It is up to me to choose the toppings for my ice cream sundae,” he said.
With three events remaining, Phelps has already added one gold and two silver toppings, and it seems likely that there is more to come, thereby setting the new benchmark so high that it will take an extraordinary — or Phelpsian — achievement to surpass it.