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6 Golds, 6 World Records for Phelps

As the gold medals and world records threw themselves at his size-14 feet, the easy thing to say about the Olympic quest of Michael Phelps was that it was getting repetitive. The guy jumps in the water, swims like he was born there, and stands at the top of the podium. Almost every day, that’s the routine.

But it is not repetitive so much as a series of masterpieces, in a quest for an unprecedented eight gold medals. The work of art yesterday was the 200-metre individual medley — half the distance of the same discipline he won to begin this meet, in dominating fashion. And Phelps, the 23-year-old from Baltimore, dominated again.

After the butterfly and the backstroke, Phelps was just .05 seconds ahead of Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh. But it was only the illusion of a contest — in the breaststroke, Phelps expanded that lead to 1.11 seconds, and then flew home in the freestyle to win in a world record-time of 1:54.23 to Cseh’s 1:56.52. The previous mark was 1:54.80, set in the U.S. trials last month. That makes six gold medals — and six world records — in six races.

Teammate and rival Ryan Lochte, who finished one one-hundredth of a second behind Cseh, was thought to be Phelps’ main competition. But he had won the 200-metre backstroke just 28 minutes earlier in a world-record time of 1:53.94, coming from third place at the midway point.

Phelps’ narrower-than-expected win in the 200 butterfly, with his goggles full of chlorinated water, showed that things can go wrong. His win in the 4×100-metre relay showed the dangers of relying on others, though Jason Lezac’s miracle anchor leg showed the benefits, too. Every race is a race, even if Phelps does his best to make it look like he is out there swimming alone.

In the semi-finals, Phelps had finally been handed what appeared to be his first individual challenge of these Games. He swam a 1:57.70 in the first semi, only to see Lochte slide in at 1:57.69. Cue the dramatic string music.

Except Phelps swam this event at the U.S. trials in a then-world-record 1:54.80 — nearly three seconds faster — and with the past seven world records in the event, one presumed he still had gas left in what appears to be a bottomless tank. He did.

In the Canadian end of the pool, Annamay Pierse of Edmonton finished sixth in the women’s 200-metre breaststroke in a Canadian-record time of 2:23.77. The race was won by American Rebecca Soni in a world-record time of 2:20.22.

Keith Beavers of London, Ont., finished seventh in the 200 IM in a time of 1:59.43, five full seconds behind Phelps.

About 10 minutes after the medal ceremony for the 200 breaststroke, Phelps qualified for the 100 butterfly final in a time of 50.97. That time was edged only Milorad Cavic of Serbia, who swam a 50.92 in the second semi-final. Crocker swam a 51.27, tied for the third-fastest time.

Lochte is Phelps’ roommate here, and as U.S. swimmer Dara Torres said earlier this week, “I think the only one who’s not intimidated is Ryan. Ryan’s kind of like, ‘Whatever.’ ”

After so much relentless success day after day, that might be the reaction of some who are getting used to the golden drumbeat the 23-year-old from Baltimore is delivering. But this kind of unparalleled greatness is anything but repetitive, really, and anything but routine.

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