He did so with considerable assistance from his teammates only an hour after he had let an almost certain victory get away, but in the dry numbers of the Olympic history book none of that will be mentioned.
In the list of records, it will simply pronounce:
Most Olympic medals won in a career -- Michael Phelps.
He now has 19, the last two won coming in very different fashion Tuesday, and that number will likely grow before the London Olympics have concluded. No matter what the final total will be, it will be a record that will probably last longer than the one he broke.
Larysa Latynina, a gymnast from Ukraine then representing the Soviet Union, won 18 medals during the Melbourne, Rome and Tokyo Olympics. The last of them was won 48 years ago and her record had stood until Tuesday.
It fell on a day when five American gymnasts combined as a true team to dominate their competition and leave the arena with gold medals, when a fencer from Egypt became the first from Africa to win a medal in that sport, when a rivalry was played out on the canoe slalom course and when a member of the U.S. Army won his second straight Olympic skeet title.
At the end of competition Tuesday, China and the United States had both won four gold medals and six overall. Both nations had collected 23 total medals over the last four days, but China has won 13 of the 53 finals contested thus far and is perhaps on its way to besting the total of 51 it claimed at home during the 2008 Olympics.
Of the 23 medals won by the Americans, 12 have come in the swimming pool. One of them was a gold won Tuesday by Allison Schmidt in the 200-meter freestyle, and another was a bronze collected by Caitlin Leverenz in the 200-meter individual medley.
And then there was the silver won by Phelps in his favorite race, the 200-meter butterfly.
That was the medal that tied the career record and it looked for all the world that it would be a gold one. Phelps had the lead over South Africa's Chad le Clos heading for home, but that lead began to shrink.
It still looked as if Phelps had enough, but as he came to the wall he was, in the parlance of swimming, between strokes. He could either glide to the finish or put on a last half stroke that would have taken him to the finish an instant quicker.
He chose to glide and while he was doing so le Clos lunged his arms forward and beat Phelps to the wall by 0.05 of a second.
Phelps still appeared in shock as he went through the motions of the medal ceremony, but when it came time to swim again in an hour's time he was ready.
It was made easier by the fact that teammates Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens had given him a 4-second lead as he began the final leg of the 800-meter relay. It was a lead that could not be lost and he did not lose it, finishing as a winner in the race that gave him the record by himself.
Earlier in the day, Phelps' American teammates routed the competition to win the women's team gymnastics gold.
Gabrielle Douglas led the way, but McKayla Maroney, Alex Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber all made meaningful contributions in bringing the Americans a 5-point win over Russia.
The United States had the best team total in three of the four exercises that make up the team final.
Another American, Vincent Hancock, missed just twice in 150 shots over two days to win the skeet gold medal. He had survived overtime to win the same title in 2008.
Tony Estanguet of France and Michal Martikan of Slovakia have combined to win 19 world championship medals over the last 15 years, 13 of them gold. They were at it again Tuesday in the finals of the canoe slalom competition. This time it was Estanguet who prevailed, winning his third gold medal in the event over the last four Games. Martikan has won a medal in the slalom each of the last five Olympics.
Alaaeldin Abouelkassem, meanwhile, beat a four-time world champion and then defeated the current world No. 1 and suddenly found himself in the finals of the individual foil tournament.
The Egyptian lost to Lei Sheng in the finals, but his silver medal was the first ever won by an African nation in Olympic fencing.
At the royal palace, however, the big news was that the queen's granddaughter, Zara Phillips, had turned in a perfect ride in the jumping arena and had finished eighth overall in the individual eventing contest. She perhaps enjoyed an even bigger celebration than did Michael Phelps.
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