Michael Phelps became the greatest Olympian in history on Wednesday, capturing the 10th and 11th gold medals of his Games career and lighting the fuse for an explosion of world records at the Water Cube.
Phelps moved to the summit of Olympic achievement with his world-record-setting triumph in the men’s 200m butterfly — claiming an unprecedented 10th Olympic gold.
An hour later he led the United States to a record-shattering victory in the 4x200m freestyle relay — the last of six world marks to fall in five events on Wednesday in one of the most stunning displays in Olympic swimming history.
All four finals produced world records, while the men’s 100m freestyle world mark toppled twice in a matter of minutes in the semifinals.
The bonanza brought the total of world records set in Beijing to 16 at the halfway stage of the nine-day swimming competition.
As ever, Phelps was centre stage.
His 200m butterfly time of 1:52,03 shaved six-100ths of a second off the world mark of 1:52,09 he set in winning the world title in Melbourne last year.
It was his fourth gold medal and fourth world record in Beijing’s Water Cube, to go with six golds won in Athens four years ago.
The 23-year-old American moved past Olympic icons Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis, Mark Spitz and Larysa Latynina, who all won nine golds in their careers.
He had barely stepped off the medal podium before he returned for the relay, leading off a US team that clocked 6:58,56 — crushing the previous world mark of 7:03,24 set by a US squad at last year’s world championships.
”I’m pumped about our relay,” Phelps said. ”We talked about breaking seven minutes and we had two guys who averaged 1:45 or better, they really did it and pulled it out for the team.”
With five golds and five world records in the first five days of swimming competition, Phelps continued his march toward another piece of Olympic history.
If he can win all eight of his Beijing events, he will surpass the record of seven gold medals at one Games set by US swimmer Spitz at Munich in 1972.
Laszlo Cseh of Hungary was second and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda third in the 200m fly, in which Phelps has owned the world record since 2001.
His victory wasn’t the same kind of dominant display as his triumph in the 200m freestyle on Tuesday, but Phelps said there was a reason for that.
”My goggles were filling up with water during the race, and I had trouble seeing the wall,” he said. ”I wanted the world record. I wanted a 1:51 or better, but given the circumstances it’s not too bad, I guess.”
Phelps’s mammoth schedule means he has no time to contemplate his place in history. ”He won’t appreciate the history of what is happening here until later, maybe years later,” said Phelps’s coach, Bob Bowman.
Phelps was due up again Wednesday night in the heats of the 200m individual medley. The 100m butterfly and 4x100m medley relay still remain.
”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.”
Federica Pellegrini made up for her disappointment in the 400m freestyle with a world record-breaking triumph in the women’s 200m free, becoming the first Italian woman to win Olympic swimming gold.
The 20-year-old Italian, silver medallist in Athens, carved 0,63 seconds off the mark she set in the heats on Monday with a time of 1:54,82.
Slovenia’s Sara Isakovic was second in 1:54,97 — also under the previous world record — capturing the first Olympic swimming medal for her country.
China’s Pang Jiaying snagged the bronze in an Asian record of 1:55,05.
Australian Stephanie Rice improved her own world record with a time of 2:08,45 in the women’s 200m individual medley — completing a medley double that opened with a world-record win in the 400m medley.
Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry claimed her third silver of the Games in 2:08,59 — also under Rice’s previous world record of 2:08,92.
American Natalie Coughlin (2:10,34) added the medley bronze to her 100m backstroke gold.
American star Katie Hoff was shut out of the medals in both the free and medley, finishing fourth in each.
Australian Eamon Sullivan emerged with the men’s 100m free world record in a tit-for-tat exchange with France’s Alain Bernard.
Bernard, swimming in the first semifinal, clocked 47,2 to better the record of 47,24 Sullivan had set in the lead-off swim of Monday’s 4x100m free relay.
Minutes later Sullivan sliced a further 0,15 seconds off Bernard’s minutes-old record to reduce the world mark to an incredible 47,05 seconds.
Dutch star Pieter van den Hoogenband, who booked his place in a fourth straight 100m free final with the third-fastest time of 47,68, said he didn’t see any chance of becoming the first man to win the same Olympic swimming title three times in a row.
”I don’t think so,” he said. ”It’s a new generation.” — Sapa-AFP