Michael Phelps (US Presswire)
By Erik Brady, USA TODAY
LONDON - For Michael Phelps, Beijing was about perfection - and London is about history.
Phelps won silver in the 200 butterfly and capped off the night by winning gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay in the London Games on Tuesday.
PHOTOS: Men's 4x200m Freestyle Relay
In the 200 fly, Phelps finished 05. seconds behind South Africa's Chad le Clos, who shouted and slapped the water in celebration. Le Clos won in 1:52.96, pulling ahead of Phelps in the final meters.
Tuesday's 200 fly race was similar to the 100 fly race four years ago in Beijing, when Phelps barely edged Milorad Cavic, getting to the touchpad just .01 seconds ahead of the Serbian swimmer.
Against le Clos, Phelps appeared to glide to the finish. It cost him a shot at winning his third consecutive gold medal in the event.
Phelps had about an hour to rest before the men's 4x200 relay.
With the silver medal, Phelps tied the record for most Olympic medals.
He matched former Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, who won 18 medals, nine of them gold, at Melbourne in 1956, Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964.
Phelps' medal count now stands at 15 gold, two silver, two bronze. He won the other silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay here.
Bob Bowman, his coach, said at the Olympic trials that London offered Phelps a chance to "take his gold medal count to a level I don't know if anyone could touch it. It might be there already."
The 4x100 free relay renewed the USA's building rivalry with France, which won silver behind the USA in Beijing but won the event here on the strength of star sprinter Yannick Agnel's inspired anchor leg. France entered the night having never won the 4x200 free at the Olympics or world championships.
Phelps had won the 200 butterfly in Athens and Beijing and no man had ever won an individual event at three successive Games. Just two women have done it: Australia's Dawn Fraser (1956, 1960, 1964) and Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi (1988, 1992, 1996).
To underscore how difficult it is to do, Phelps failed in his attempt at three consecutive Olympic wins in the 400 individual medley, finishing fourth on Saturday. And Japan's Kosuke Kitajima failed in his attempt to for a three-peat in the 100 breaststroke, finishing fifth on Sunday.
Phelps will have two other chances at Olympic trifectas, in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley, and Kitajima will have one in the 200 breast.
The 200 IM, which will be Wednesday and Thursday, offers Phelps an opportunity to even the score with rival and friend Ryan Lochte, who won gold in the 400 IM on the first night of the meet. That will be their second and last head-to-head race here. At trials, Lochte won the 400 IM and Phelps the 200 IM.
Phelps also will swim the 100 butterfly, which he loves, on Thursday and Friday and will end his Olympic career in Saturday's 4x100 medley relay, the valedictory moment of an Olympic career like no other.
Phelps has been saying all along that he has goals in London, though he has declined to say precisely what they are. Surely, making history is one of them.
"You guys are still stressing about it," he told reporters just days before the Games. "I have times that I want to hit and things I want to do. That's why I'm here. Obviously, we always want to swim faster."