Michael Phelps becomes the most decorated athlete in Olympic history

Michael Phelps swam that anchor with the power, speed and athletic grace that has been showcased since he first debuted on the Olympic stage, long ago in Sydney in 2000; with the take-on-all-comers fearlessness on display in Athens in 2004; you saw, too, echoes of the historic eight-for-eight audacity and bravado of Beijing in 2008.

All of that in a 1:44.05 anchor-leg split — fastest on the U.S. team — that drove the Americans to a 6:59.7 victory.

To swim the 4×2 relay under seven minutes is extraordinary. The others on the relay: Ryan Lochte, who swimming lead-off gave the Americans open water; Conor Dwyer; and Ricky Berens. The victory made Phelps and Lochte the first in Olympic history to win the 4×2 relay three times.

At the finish, you could see Debbie Phelps, who had been urging her son along the entire way, shout out from the stands, “Yes!”

That one word encapsulated it all — all the years, and all the moments in all those years, that led up to the 19 medals. It’s why there were visible emotions on the medal stand and why her son, and Lochte, Dwyer and Berens seemed to take an awfully long time coming off the deck after the medals ceremony. Why hurry?

“The biggest thing I’ve always said is — anything is possible,” Michael Phelps said late Tuesday night. “I’ve put my mind on doing something nobody has ever done before and there is nothing that was going to stand in my way — of being the first Michael Phelps.”

As for the 200 fly, the Phelps family signature race, a race that Michael had not lost at a major international competition since the 2002 Pan Pacific championships in Japan, winning the worlds in 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2011, along with Pan Pacific titles in 2006 and 2010 and Olympic gold in 2004 and 2008 — he had the 2012 Olympic fly all but won.

He was ahead the entire race.

But history, and life, work in mysterious ways. Here Michael Phelps showed himself not to be the automaton so many absurdly believe him to be. Instead, he revealed himself to be just like all of the rest of us — imperfect

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