By Laura Smith-Spark and Steve Almasy, CNN
LONDON (CNN) – Michael Phelps wasn’t done making Olympic history. On Thursday, he became the first man to win the same individual event in three consecutive Olympics with a strong performance in the men’s 200-meter individual medley.
Phelps led from the first leg of butterfly, his specialty, until he touched the wall more than half-second ahead of teammate Ryan Lochte, who just a half-hour earlier had taken a bronze medal in the 200-meter backstroke.
“Even though Ryan had that 200 back before, I knew he was going to be tough. I kind of wanted to push the first 100 as much as I could just to kind of see what would happen,” Phelps said.
Phelps, who will retire after the Olympics, made history this week when he became the Olympian with the most medals, surpassing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s record of 18. The Baltimore native now has 20 medals: 16 golds, two silvers and two bronzes.
Lochte had won the first head-to-head contest with Phelps in these Games, taking gold in the 400-meter individual Saturday while Phelps could only manage fourth.
“I said to him in the meet room this is our last 200 of the meet and our last 200 together. We were just joking around, laughing about it. Ryan has probably been one of the toughest competitors ever to swim against,” Phelps said.
Earlier, Phelps described the moment he received a phone call from President Barack Obama on Wednesday.
“He just got on and was saying how everyone is supporting me and is behind me at home and how proud everyone is of me. That was pretty cool,” Phelps said. “And he finished by saying, ‘Make sure you tell your mom I said hi.’ It was a good call.”
Earlier Thursday, American Rebecca Soni set a world record in winning gold in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke. She swam 2:19.59 to beat Satomi Suzuki of Japan, who clocked an Asian record 2:20.72, for silver.
“I’m so happy, I didn’t try to focus on medals or records,” she said. “I just wanted to swim one more race the way I knew I could.”
In the men’s 200-meter backstroke, Tyler Clary of the United States beat Ryosuke Irie of Japan and Lochte for the gold.
Clary was stunned to have beaten the favorite, Lochte.
“It’s not how I planned the race turning out at all,” he told a BBC TV interviewer. Then still in disbelief, he said, “You can wake me up now.”
Team USA had a easy night on the basketball court against Nigeria. Very easy.
The Americans scored an Olympic record 156 points in 40 minutes, winning by 83 points — which actually isn’t a record.
Carmelo Anthony led the U.S. with 37 points.
“We shot the ball better than any team in a game I have ever coached,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “Our guys just couldn’t miss tonight. When you hit 29 threes it’s very difficult to lose.”
The American led by “only” 33 points at halftime. But they shot an amazing 71% for the game and beat Brazil’s 1988 mark of 138 points.
“It could have been anyone out there against us tonight, when we shoot that well” we’ll beat anyone, Anthony said.
It was reminiscent of the 1992 Dream Team dismantling Angola by 68 points. The two teams have been compared and Thursday’s result will add to the debate as to which team of NBA all-stars is better.
In its next game Saturday against Lithuania, the U.S. should get a more difficult opponent. But Lithuania only beat Nigeria by 19 in game earlier this week.
Besides Obama, another president made Olympic news: Russia’s Vladimir Putin attended the judo competition Thursday with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Putin, who is himself a black belt in the martial art, was treated to the sight of a gold for Russian judo contestant Tagir Khaibulaev.
“I look forward to taking the president to the judo at the Olympic park, but I note that we will be spectators and not participants,” Cameron joked after their meeting at Downing Street.
Tiny Gabby Douglas, nicknamed the Flying Squirrel, claimed gold for Team USA in the women’s individual all-around gymnastics after a stunning final floor routine, leaving Russia’s Viktoria Komova to pick up the silver.
“I wasn’t really watching the scores, I was just going out there trying to do my rountines the best I could and I did,” Douglas said. “I came out on top and I’m just so excited.”
It was heartbreak for Douglas’ countrywoman Aly Raisman, though, as she tied for third with Aliya Mustafina of Russia but lost out on the bronze medal because of technical deductions.
World champion Jordyn Wieber was excluded from the women’s individual all-around final because she finished fourth, but third among Americans, in a qualifying system that allows only two people per nation.
Cycling moved Thursday from the streets of London to the velodrome, a building praised for its sweeping curves and a track made of sustainably sourced Siberian pine, with qualifying rounds and finals in the men’s and women’s team sprint events.
It was a day of drama, with Team GB’s Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish — who had major gold medal hopes — relegated from the women’s team sprint for an illegal changeover. More upset followed in the medal final, when the Chinese in turn were relegated from the top spot, giving gold to Germany.
There were also scorchingly fast times, with China’s women setting a world record in the team sprint and the British men doing likewise in the team pursuit and the team sprint.
And then Team GB blew away the French to claim gold in the men’s team sprint final and keep the title they won in Beijing — setting another world record in the process and earning Chris Hoy his fifth gold.
The host nation’s victory, which raised the roof in the velodrome, echoed the success of Team GB’s road cyclists Wednesday, when Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome took gold and bronze in the time trial. The victory made Wiggins, a former track cyclist, the most decorated British Olympian, with seven medals.
New postage stamps were released in the United Kingdom on Thursday, celebrating Wiggins alongside rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who brought Team GB its first gold medal of the 2012 Games on Wednesday.
Team USA struck gold in the rowing Thursday as the women’s eight retained their title, showing their dominance once again.
South Africa took gold in the lightweight men’s four after a superb late rally, relegating Team GB to silver, to the disappointment of many in the crowd. Also on the rowing lake, New Zealand won the men’s doubles sculls final, the country’s first gold in London.
At the equestrian arena, Ann Romney, wife of the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee, was on hand to see her horse Rafalca compete in dressage, ridden by Jan Ebeling. Mitt Romney wasn’t there, though, as he was traveling from Boston to Colorado for campaign events.
The oldest competitor taking part in the London Games, 71-year-old Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan, rode in the same event on his horse, Whisper.
In southwest London, tennis fans are enjoying quarterfinals at Wimbledon in both the men’s and women’s singles competition.
Team GB claimed gold and silver in the men’s canoe slalom, with Tim Baillie and Etienne Stott taking the top spot ahead of David Florence and Richard Hounslow, and a gold in the men’s double trap shooting for Peter Wilson.
But American Kayla Harrison beat Great Britain’s Gemma Gibbons to gold in the 78-kilogram judo.
Victory in the women’s individual archery competition went to South Korea’s Ki Bo Bae, while China’s Zhang Jike won the men’s table tennis singles title and France’s Emilie Fer won a kayaking gold.
Meanwhile, the fallout from the badminton scandal continued.
One of the Chinese badminton players disqualified from the Games on Wednesday for trying to lose a match has indicated that she is quitting the sport, accusing the badminton governing body of ruining her dreams.
“This is my last match,” Yu Yang wrote on her microblog account late Wednesday. “Farewell Badminton World Federation, farewell my beloved badminton.”
However, her official team apology, issued after her microblog comments, was less unequivocal.
“I apologize to all our fans because we failed to abide by the Olympic spirit and failed to present a game as it should have been. … I am ready to do my best in every game of my professional career in the future, to show all of my fans that I’ve changed,” it reads.
Yu, her women’s doubles partner, Wang Xiaoli, and six other players were kicked out of the competition Wednesday by the Badminton World Federation in one of the most controversial episodes of the London Games.
The athletes were accused of playing to lose in order to face easier opponents in future matches, drawing boos from spectators and warnings from match officials Tuesday night. The other doubles pairs booted out were from South Korea and Indonesia. They lost an appeal for reinstatement.
On Day 6 of the Games, the United States topped the medals table with 37 total to China’s 34. Each nation has 18 golds.
After a slow start, two strong days have sent Team GB shooting up the medal table, though it’s still in seventh place.
CNN’s Jethro Mullen, Alexander Felton and Andrew Henstock contributed to this report.