Phelps wins 10th, 11th golds of Olympic career
BEIJING - For Michael Phelps, it's not enough to just set a new standard. He has to demolish the old one. Winningest Olympian ever? He's two golds past that already and not finished yet, just over halfway to his goal of breaking Mark Spitz's record seven in a single Olympics.
World records? In a sport measured down to the hundredths for a reason, Phelps sets a pace to crush one of them by more than four seconds.
Even when his goggles malfunctioned during the first race of a golden morning in China, the gangly, 23-year-old American squinted through water-filled lenses on the way to, yes, a world record. Of course, he was none too happy to beat it by only six-hundredths.
"In the circumstances, not too bad I guess," he said with a shrug. "I know I can go faster."
No wonder his competitors realize they're merely swimming for second.
Monumental challenges for mere mortals seem almost inconsequential to Phelps.
"He is just a normal person, but maybe from a different planet," said Russia's Alexander Sukhorukov, fresh off a thrashing by the Phelps-led Americans but still good enough to have a silver around his neck.
On Wednesday, Phelps swam into history as the winningest Olympic athlete ever with his 10th and 11th career gold medals — and five world records in five events at the Beijing Games.
A day after etching his name alongside Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis with gold No. 9, Phelps set a standard all his own when he won the 200-meter butterfly. An hour later, he swam the leadoff of a runaway victory by the U.S. 800 freestyle relay team, which shattered the old world mark in becoming the first team to break the 7-minute barrier.
Seemingly impervious to fatigue, he set a blistering pace of 1 minute, 43.31 seconds that got the Americans rolling toward a winning time of 6:58.56.
"Come on! Come on!" he screamed at teammates Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens and Peter Vanderkaay.
The previous record of 7:03.24 was set by the Americans at last year's world championships. Russia took the silver, more than five seconds behind the Americans, who mainly had to make sure they didn't get in the water too soon. Australia won the bronze.
"Safe start! Safe start!" Phelps yelled at Berens before he dove in.
After a six-gold performance at the 2004 Athens Games, Phelps needed only five days in Beijing to surpass Spitz, Lewis, Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina and Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi as the winningest Olympian ever.
"I'm almost at a loss for words," Phelps said. "Growing up I always wanted to be an Olympian. Now to be the most decorated Olympian of all time, it just sounds weird saying. It started setting in a little bit after the butterfly. I was just trying to focus on my next race, but I just kept thinking, `Wow, greatest Olympian of all time.' It's a pretty cool title. I'm definitely honored."
Phelps has three more chances to stretch his lead before he leaves China. He'll swim in the 200 individual medley, 100 fly and 400 medley relay.
"There is still something left in the tank," Phelps said. "I've got three races left, so there had better be something left in the tank."
In his signature stroke, the butterfly, Phelps was second at the first flip, then pushed it into another gear, his long arms gobbling up huge chunks of water as he literally sailed along atop the surface. He finished in 1:52.03, breaking his mark of 1:52.09 from the 2007 worlds.
Phelps barely smiled as he looked at the board, breathing heavily and hanging on the lane rope. Hungary's Laszlo Cseh really pushed it at the end, but settled for silver in 1:52.70. Japan's Takeshi Matsuda took the bronze in 1:52.97.
Phelps rubbed his eyes and said climbing from the pool, "I can't see anything." A pair of leaky goggles kept him from even seeing the wall as he touched.
"My goggles kept filling up with water during the race," Phelps said. "I wanted 1:51 or better."
Still, he had two more golds and two more records before lunchtime, leaving him just three wins away from beating Spitz's record in the 1972 Munich Games.
"There is nobody in our sport that can win like he wins," U.S. head coach Eddie Reese said. "He is not just winning, he is crunching world records."
British swimmer Simon Burnett provided his theory to Reese when they ran into each other in the cafeteria.
"He was saying to me, 'I think I've figured out Michael Phelps. He is not from another planet; he is from the future. His father made him and made a time machine. Sixty years from now he is an average swimmer, but he has come back here to mop up.'"
Phelps is also keeping pace with Spitz on the record front. Spitz set world standards in all his wins at Munich; Phelps is now 5-for-5 in China.
"I'm pumped about our relay," Phelps said. "It's the most fun thing to be in a team environment and be part of a relay. It's cool when you get four Americans who all swim well together. Everyone has to play their part or it's just not going to happen. We've been lucky that we've been able to do that."
The Americans are sure lucky to have Phelps, who is already recognized as the greatest swimmer ever — sorry, Mark — and plans to keep competing at least through the 2012 London Games.
After another trip to the medals podium, he flipped his flowers to mother Debbie, tears pouring down her face as she proudly watched from a front-row seat with her two daughters.
Everyone wanted to get a look at history, including the U.S. men's basketball team. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony were among those cheering on Phelps from poolside seats. James posed for pictures with Phelps' mom.
Three worlds records fell before Phelps even walked on deck the first time. By the end of the morning, six new marks were set. It was impossible to win gold without putting up the fastest time in history.
So much for concerns that morning finals would hurt the competition.
In the semifinals of the 100 free, Australia's Eamon Sullivan and France's Alain Bernard played takeaway with the record Sullivan set two days earlier.
In the first heat, Bernard won in 47.20 to knock down Sullivan's mark of 47.24 from the leadoff leg of the memorable 400 free relay. That record lasted all of two minutes. Sullivan won the second heat in 47.05, setting up a thrilling showdown in Thursday's final.
"Records don't mean much," Sullivan said. "They don't win medals at the end of the day, unfortunately. But it gives me confidence that I can swim my own race under pressure."
American Jason Lezak, who chased down Bernard in the relay, advanced to the final with the sixth-best time, 47.98. The other U.S. swimmer, Garrett Weber-Gale, failed to advance.
Then it was Federica Pellegrini's turn in the women's 200 free. The Italian broke the mark she set a day earlier in the semifinals, winning gold in 1:54.82. The old record was 1:55.45.
Sara Isakovic of Slovenia claimed the bronze in 1:54.97, and China's Pang Jiaying thrilled the home fans by passing Katie Hoff on the final lap to take bronze in 1:55.05.
Hoff's disappointing day wasn't done.
In the 200 individual medley, she again finished in the first spot that doesn't give a medal. Australia's Stephanie Rice completed her IM sweep with another world record, her time of 2:08.45 erasing the mark of 2:08.92 set at the Australian trials in March.
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe took the silver in 2:08.59, also below the previous world record. Natalie Coughlin of the U.S. won the bronze in 2:10.34, her third medal of the games, beating Hoff by 34-hundredths of a second.
"It's a big surprise for me," said Coughlin, who only began swimming the IM a few months ago. "Any medal in an event that is not on your (regular) program is great."
The glamorous Rice, wearing big green earrings that matched her country's colors, added to her victory in the 400 IM.
Then there's Hoff, who looked to be one of the big stories of the game when she qualified in five individual events — the same number as Phelps.
The 19-year-old, who says Phelps is like a big brother, has yet to match his success in the water. In her first two races, Hoff settled for a bronze and a silver, which look pretty good after Wednesday. Now, she's got only one more event — the 800 free — to win an individual gold.
"I went out there and I raced tough and that's all I can do," Hoff said. "It was definitely a tough day, but I think I handled it pretty well."
An inspiring Olympic story came to an end in the semifinals of the 200 breaststroke.
Eric Shanteau, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer just before the U.S. Olympic trials and put off surgery until after the games, failed to advance to the final.
He finished sixth in his semifinal heat and 10th overall, 13-hundredths of a second out of the last spot into the final.
Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, trying for his second straight sweep of the breaststroke events, cruised along as the top qualifier at 2:08.61. He already won the 100 with a world record after taking both golds in Athens four years ago.
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