Phelps' 19th Medal Breaks 48-Year-Old Record

Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian ever Tuesday when he won his 19th medal. This week hasn't been the men's team's best, but this was a special moment.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Nobody was booing when American swimmer Michael Phelps is now the most decorated Olympian ever. Two medals yesterday in London broke a 48-year-old record. Phelps has now has 19 Olympic medals, total.

NPR's Howard Berkes reports from London.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: Michael Phelps was a little sloppy on his way to breaking one of the most enduring records of the Olympics.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Take your mark.

(SOUNDBITE OF AN ALARM AND CHEERING)

BERKES: This was the first swim of the night for Phelps, the 200-meter butterfly, one of his best events. He set the world record, had the best time this year, and took the event in the last two Olympics. He led the whole way and seemed to be easing into the wall for the win with just a few feet to go. But South Africa's Chad Le Clos had been gaining and surged with his last stroke to win, by just five hundredths of a second.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

BERKES: It ended just like the 100 fly at the Beijing Olympics four years ago. Phelps won then with a full stroke and surge, the same move that beat him last night. Le Clos told reporters he has video on his laptop, in seven different languages, showing the 2008 move that earned Phelps a gold medal.

CHAD LE CLOS: Obviously watching all of Michael's races I knew that he finished strong. And he used his last underwater to his advantage. I think it sounds crazy but I actually thought I was Michael that last turn. Because - no, I - I just remember, you know, how he used to do it. And, you know, when I turned, I turned that way and I looked at him.

BERKES: Emulating Michael Phelps helped Le Clos win, but the Silver for second tied the record for the biggest horde of Olympic medals. Still, Phelps found the runner-up position in the race.

MICHAEL PHELPS: A little frustrating but, you know, after that I tried to just kind of shut that out of my head and then put it behind me, and get ready of this relay.

BERKES: The 4-by-200 freestyle relay began with Phelps telling his three teammates to give him the biggest lead they could. And they did. Ryan Lochte started off at world record time. And by the time Phelps hit the water for the final 200, he had two body lengths on his closest competitor. The win gave Phelps and his teammates a gold medal - number 15 for Phelps. And it brought him to 19 Olympic medals overall and more than anyone in Olympic history.

PHELPS: You know, the biggest thing I've ever said is that anything is possible. And I have put my mind on doing something nobody else had ever done before and there was nothing that was going to stand in my way.

BERKES: There isn't an athlete competing today who is anywhere close to the record. And before Phelps came along, the record stood since 1964. That's 21 years before Phelps was born. Still, this is how Phelps responded when a reporter asked him if the 19 medal mark is untouchable.

PHELPS: Nothing is untouchable.

BERKES: Phelps has at least two more chances to add to his own boatload of medals in London. He has the 200 individual medley Thursday and the 100 butterfly Friday. And when London Olympics swimming ends Saturday, Phelps will hang up his Olympic goggles and swimsuit for good.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, London.

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