Michael Phelps won the 19th medal of his career, making him the most-decorated Olympic athlete ever.

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LONDON — On the night in which Michael Phelps ascended to a truly Olympian peak, he never seemed closer to the ground.

The machine-like swimmer, who seemed to run on motor rather than muscle and scooped up medals by the handful, had become an actual human being, one whose less than golden perfection made the victories that much sweeter when they came as they did on Tuesday night.

“This has been an amazing ride,” Phelps, 27, said almost pensively Tuesday night, when he won the 19th medal that made him the most-decorated Olympic athlete ever.

“It was a cool feeling. I’m sure I’ll be able to put it more in words once we get through the meet and then probably down the road,” Phelps said of how on Tuesday he first tied and then surpassed the 48-year-old record for most Olympic medals previously held by Soviet-era gymnast Larisa Latynina.

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The race that allowed him to surpass Latynina’s 18 medals, the 4×200-meter freestyle relay he anchored, was won quite easily. But what perhaps was most impressive was that it came about an hour after he suffered a heartbreaking, second-place finish by .05 of a second in his signature event, the 200-meter butterfly.

“I have never been prouder of him,” his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, said, his eyes reddened from the emotion of the night, seeing how Phelps swallowed his anger and disappointment and rallied to the next race. The younger Phelps, Bowman said, may not have been able to do that.

The first thing Phelps said after winning the relay gold medal Tuesday night, huddled on the pool deck with the three other swimmers, was thank you.

“I thanked them for being able to allow me to have this moment,” he said of Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens.

When they gathered on the medal platform, he had one more message for them.

“Sorry boys, I’m not going to be singing this with you guys,” he said of the anthem that would be played. “There are too many emotions that are going on, I’m never going to be able to get a word out. I tried to hold myself together as much as I could, my eyes were getting watery.”

Perhaps the most-touching part of an extraordinary night was the way Phelps, having just been beaten by South African swimmer Chad Le Clos, took the 20-year-old under his wing to navigate the medal ceremony. Le Clos, who as a 12-year-old watched Phelps win his first six gold medals and carries videos of his many races on his laptop, said that during the dream-like state he was in, Phelps told him to take it all in.

“Live the moment,” he said Phelps told him as the older swimmer led him on the victory lap medalists take, showing him where to stop for the photographers. “Enjoy it. It’s special.”

“Coming from him, it is special,” Le Clos said.

It was also a good night for Chinese teen sensation Ye Shiwen, who set an Olympic record to win the 200-meter individual medley, adding to her gold in the 400 IM.

The 16-year-old Ye took the lead in the final lap and clocked 2 minutes, 7.57 seconds, shaving 0.18 off her own mark set in Monday’s semifinal.

Auburn’s Ariana Kukors finished fifth with a time of 2:09.83, less than a second out of a medal spot.

American Allison Schmitt won the 200 freestyle in an Olympic-record 1:53.61.

France’s Camille Muffat took silver in 1:55.58, almost a body length behind, while Bronte Barrett of Australia took the bronze over Missy Franklin of the U.S. by a hundredth of a second. Barrett touched in 1:55.81. Franklin, who led after the first 50, was fourth in 1:55.82.

Bremerton’s Nathan Adrian qualified fastest in the 100-meter freestyle preliminaries, with the final happening Wednesday night.

Adrian won his heat in 48.19 seconds while swimming in a lane next to world-record holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil.

“It felt good to be that easy in the first 50 and to have a little bit to come home,” Adrian said. “Maybe I can go faster, who knows?”

The Associated Press

contributed to this report.

Medal madness
Michael Phelps won his 19th career medal, setting an Olympics record. The top five medal-holders in Summer Olympic history:
Athlete, country Sport G S B Tot
Michael Phelps, USA Swimming 15 2 2 19
Larisa Latynina, USSR Gymnastics 9 5 4 18
Nikolai Andrianov, USSR Gymnastics 7 5 3 15
Boris Shakhlin, USSR Gymnastics 7 4 2 13
Takashi Ono, Japan Gymnastics 5 4 4 13
Edoardo Mangiarotti, Italy Fencing 6 5 2 13
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