U.S. Swims Deeper Into The Record Books

Michael Phelps won his 20th Olympic medal, the gold, in his last race with Ryan Lochte, who took the silver. Rebecca Soni won a gold, as well. All in all, it was a good day for American swimmers. NPR's Howard Berkes reports from London.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Apparently, 19 medals were not enough for Michael Phelps. The American swimmer set an Olympic record with his 19th medal this week. But it turned out not to be his last.

MONTAGNE: Last night in London, Phelps won another gold. He'll swim one more individual event and one more rely before he retires.

INSKEEP: And he's not the only American swimmer winning gold, as NPR's Howard Berkes reports from London.

HOWARD BERKES, BYLINE: It's hard to imagine Michael Phelps having something to prove. He has more medals and more gold medals than any Olympian ever. But he hasn't met the expectations and the hype for his final games, finishing fourth in one Olympic race this week for the first time in 12 years. And he had yet to win an individual gold medal in London when he walked onto the deck last night for the 200-meter individual medley.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUZZER AND CHEERING)

BERKES: This was the second big showdown between Phelps and his teammate Ryan Lochte. They were neck-and-neck in the first butterfly lap, but Phelps hit the wall first and led the rest of the way, through the backstroke, breast stroke and freestyle laps.

With his mom yelling go, go, go in the stands, Phelps finally won an individual London gold medal.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING CROWD)

MICHAEL PHELPS: You know I, I fell short in the first couple of events, so, you know, to be able to do something that no male has done in the sport was something, you know, that is pretty cool. It's just cool to be able to finish your career at the last 200 with a gold medal.

BERKES: The something no male swimmer has ever done is win the same event in three consecutive Olympics. Besides being the last 200 medley of his career, it was the last time Phelps would swim against Ryan Lochte, his biggest rival. Lochte beat Phelps in the 400 medley earlier in the week. But he finished second last night for silver. Just a half hour earlier, Lochte swam the 200 meter backstroke, but finished a disappointing third, admitting he was tired. He said swimming doubles or two finals in one night is tough.

RYAN LOCHTE: And it takes a toll on your body. But you know what? That's what I've been training for the past four years. I've been training really hard so I can make those doubles. I mean, sometimes you win, and sometimes you don't.

BERKES: Phelps swims again tonight in the 100-meter butterfly, the event he has dominated since the Athens Olympics. He's the world and Olympic champion, and is aiming for another third-straight gold medal in the event. Phelps wasn't alone in winning gold last night.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLYMPIC MEDAL CEREMONY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The winner of the gold medal and Olympic champion, representing the United States of America, Rebecca Soni.

BERKES: Twenty-five-year-old Rebecca Soni was uncharacteristically buoyant and smiling as she stood on the podium waiting to get her gold medal. She won the 200-meter breaststroke in world record time, breaking the record she set the day before in a preliminary heat. Her time of just under two minutes and 20 seconds was a goal she had set for herself in high school almost a decade ago.

REBECCA SONI: This past year I really said, you know, the 200 is my baby, and that's what I want to focus on. So, you know, I trained really hard every day this past year with that 200 in mind. So I'm just - I couldn't be happier.

BERKES: In the two other finals of the night, Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands won the gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle in Olympic record time. American Missy Franklin finished fifth. And in the 200-meter backstroke, Tyler Clary of the United States also broke an Olympic record in winning gold. Clary was asked about Phelps and Lochte and the overwhelming attention they've drawn at these Olympics.

TYLER CLARY: You know, it's natural human tendency to focus on a couple of people as being the best in any team. I mean, the fact that we have Michael and Ryan on our team, they've done incredible things for the sport. I mean, swimming has such visibility now because of those two, and I'm proud to call myself a teammate of theirs.

BERKES: Expect the spotlight to get brighter, especially on Phelps, as he begins the final two days of his swimming career. He now has 20 Olympic medals and 16 golds, and could have a couple more before Olympic swimming ends Saturday night.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, London.

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