Michael Phelps after breaking medals record / CHRISTOPHE SIMON
(CBS News) LONDON - Olympic records come and Olympic records go - but not this one.
The last one endured 48 years, and there was plenty of drama as it fell.
There are more than 10,000 athletes at these Games, but for the last day, it's been all about one of them: Michael Phelps.
He had two shots at sporting immortality Tuesday - in fact, he had a shot at two all-time records.
A medal in the 200-meter butterfly would tie him at 18 for the most medals ever won by a single athlete.
A gold in the event would mean he'd be the only person to ever win consecutive gold medals in a single event at three consecutive Games.
And it looked awfully good for a while. In fact, until the last meter or two, when Phelps glided to the finish and South African Chad Le Clos took one last crucial lunge, and won.
Friends say the consecutive golds was the record Phelps really wanted. He had to settle for merely another medal - his 18th.
Phelps' mother looked like she thought he'd won.
Le Clos' father couldn't believe it. He wrapped himself in the South African flag.
That finish tied Phelps with Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, whose medal run in the 1950s and '60s was Phelps' target.
She was in the stands watching. Phelps deserved the record, she said. Forty-eight years was long enough.
And about an hour later, the 48-year run was about to come to an end.Alex Wolff, senior reporter for Sports Illustrated, was poolside for Phelps' big moment. He described it to "CBS This Morning" co-hosts Charlie Rose and Gayle King. to see the interview, click on the video at left:
The U.S. was the overwhelming favorite in the freestyle relay in which Phelps would swim the final leg.
He inherited a big lead and defended it, getting medal number 19, an Olympic record that may stand for another half-century.
"It's something that's very special," Phelps said. "You know, these Olympics are going to be a lot more emotional at times, and ... that's why, in the huddle, I was saying to these guys, 'Thank you for you guys making this possible.' You know, if I didn't have a big enough lead, who knows what would have happened? And these guys were able to put together three stellar spots in the relay and gave me a lead, and I just tried to finish."
Phelps has now confirmed himself as not only the greatest Olympian swimmer ever, but arguably the most outstanding athlete who's ever participated in these Games.
He's adored by normal fans, and was congratulated by the fan in chief in a personal tweet from President Obama. You made your country proud, it said.
The US women's gymnastics team made the country proud, as well. They were easy winners in the team gymnastics event - the first U.S. gold in that sport since 1996.
As for Phelps' achievement - not only is it unprecedented - he isn't finished. He's got three more races, so it's 19 medals - and counting.