It's No. 19 and counting for Michael Phelps

By Beth Harris

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 1 2012 6:35 a.m. MDT

United States' swimmer Michael Phelps, center, looks up at his mother, Debbie, top, after his team's gold medal win in the men's 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Tuesday, July 31, 2012.

Lee Jin-man, Associated Press

LONDON — Michael Phelps has always said he wanted to do something that no one has ever done before.

He's all by himself now, and ready to go for more.

The world's greatest swimmer cruised through the anchor leg of the 4x200-meter freestyle relay to earn his record 19th career Olympic medal and 15th gold on Tuesday night, etching a place in history as the most decorated Olympian of all time.

"It has been a pretty amazing career but we still have a couple races to go," he said.

Now his remaining four days in the pool at the London Games are all about putting that mark even further out of reach. Phelps has three events to go — the 200 individual medley, the 100 butterfly and the 4x100 medley relay.

He won't be racing for a medal on Wednesday, when he competes in the preliminaries and semifinals of the 200 IM.

The big race on Day 5 of the swimming competition will be the men's 100 freestyle. James "The Missile" Magnussen of Australia owns the leading time going into the final. Nathan Adrian of the U.S. is next on the list, followed by Cuba's Hanser Garcia.

Other top contenders are world record-holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil and Yannick Agnel of France.

Kosuke Kitajima will try to make some history of his own in the 200 breaststroke. The Japanese star could become the first male swimmer to win the same event at three consecutive Olympics, although he's a long shot after qualifying fifth-fastest for the final. Kitajima's earlier attempt at a threepeat in the 100 breast fell short.

Leading qualifier Kathleen Hersey goes for the first U.S. gold medal in the women's 200 butterfly since 2000, when Misty Hyman stunned Susie O'Neill in Sydney.

Hours after Phelps earned his 18th medal — a silver in the 200 fly — and his 19th with the relay gold, well-wishers ranging from soccer great Pele to Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol to fellow Olympians and teammates past and present tweeted their congratulations.

"To be a part of that is something I'll tell my kids about," relay swimmer Ricky Berens said. "It's just incredible to go down with him."

Phelps tied the record for career medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina by finishing second in the 200 fly, getting out-touched by South African Chad le Clos at the wall. Phelps angrily tossed his cap in the water, a scowl on his face.

About an hour later, he returned with his teammates in tow for the relay. Ryan Lochte led off, followed by Conor Dwyer. Berens gave a lead of nearly 4 seconds to Phelps, who churned through the water and touched in a cumulative time of 6 minutes, 59.70 seconds for his first gold of these games.

When Phelps and the others huddled up before the relay, he told them he wanted "a big lead" going into his anchor leg and they delivered.

"I started smiling with like 20 meters to go, the first time I think I've ever done that in a race," he said. "I knew we had gotten it."

Phelps has 15 golds in his career, six more than anyone else, to go along with two silvers and two bronzes. Latynina won nine golds, five silvers and four bronzes from 1956-64.

The 77-year-old gymnast was in the stands at the Aquatics Centre on Tuesday night and watched Phelps break her record, and she said she was happy for him.

"I saw him swim, and I saw my record swim away," Latynina told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "He's very talented — no doubt about that."

Lochte called Phelps "one of the toughest racers and one of the best swimmers ever to live. It's pretty awesome."

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