LONDON — Michael Phelps lingered on the blocks, not wanting to make another shocking blunder. The 19th medal was his. All he had to do was avoid a DQ, then set off on what amounted to four victory laps.
When Phelps touched the wall, he finally had gold at his final Olympics. And a record for the ages.
Phelps swam into history with a lot of help from his friends, taking down the last major record that wasn't his alone. He took the anchor leg for the United States in a gold medal-winning performance of the 800-meter freestyle relay team Tuesday, earning the 19th Olympic medal of his brilliant career, and the 15th gold.
"I've put my mind to doing something that nobody had ever done before," Phelps said. "This has been an amazing ride."
About an hour earlier, Phelps had taken one of his most frustrating defeats, blowing it at the finish and settling for silver in his signature event, the 200 butterfly. That had tied the record for career medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, but it was hardly a triumphant moment. Phelps slung away his cap in disgust and struggled to force a smile at the medal ceremony.
But any disappointment was gone by the time he dived in the water on the relay, having been staked to a huge lead by teammates Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens.
Before the race, they had huddled together, aware of their role in history. "I thanked those guys for helping me get to this moment," Phelps said. "I told those guys I wanted a big lead. I was like, 'You better give me a big lead going into the last lap,' and they gave it to me. I just wanted to hold on. I thanked them for being able to allow me to have this moment."
Lochte, a former Gator, handed off a comfortable lead to former Gator Dwyer, who gave a bigger lead to Berens, who handed off a lead of nearly 4 seconds to Phelps, who was extra cautious with the exchange, knowing the only way he could ruin this one was to get disqualified.
He touched in 6 minutes, 59.70 seconds. France was second in 7:02.77.
Phelps had not lost a 200 fly race at either the Olympics or world championships since the 2000 Olympics. After leading the entire race, he tried to glide into the wall instead of taking one more stroke. South African Chad Le Clos took that extra stroke and beat Phelps by five-hundredths of a second.
In the first final of the night, American Allison Schmitt won the 200 freestyle in an Olympic-record 1:53.61. Missy Franklin was denied her third medal of the Games, finishing fourth.
In the women's 200 individual medley, China's Ye Shiwen set an Olympic record to win her second gold of the Games, adding that to a world-record performance in the 400 IM that sparked suspicions about doping (see top of page).
Ye, 16, took the lead in the final lap and clocked 2:07.57, shaving 0.18 off her mark set in Monday's semifinal. Alicia Coutts of Australia took the silver medal and Caitlin Leverenz of the United States the bronze.