By Sportswriter Gao Peng
LONDON, Aug. 2 (Xinhua) -- American superstar Michael Phelps edged arch-rival Ryan Lochte to grab his first individual gold medal of the London Games and 20th career medal on Thursday as the United States drew level with China in the race to win the most gold medals.
Having already established himself the most decorated Olympian of all time after the U.S. men's 4x200m freestyle relay victory on Tuesday, Phelps' legend grew even greater as he clocked a fastest time of 1:54.27 in the 200m individual medley final.
Lochte finished second in 1:54.90, while Lazlo Cseh of Hungary touched the wall third.
The win means Phelps has now won an unprecedented total of 20 Olympic medals, of which 16 are gold medals. He is also the first swimmer to win the same individual event in three straight games.
"To be able to win the gold medal and repeat three times is something pretty special," said the 27-year-old Phelps.
Earlier, Lochte was subdued in the 200m backstroke final, which was won by fellow American Tyler Clary. Lochte had led at every turn but was overtaken during the final strokes and had to settle for a bronze. Ryosuke Irie of Japan captured silver in 1:53.78.
It was Rebecca Soni who produced the most brilliant swim Thursday night at the Aquatics Center. The 25-year-old American broke the world record that she had set just 24 hours earlier to retain her Olympic title in the 200m breaststroke.
Soni is the first woman to go below 2:20 in the event. "It's been my goal since I was a little kid to go under 2:20," she said. "I've been chasing it ever since. I'm just so happy."
Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands stormed to victory in the women's 100m freestyle final, denying a U.S. clean sweep of golds.
On top of the success in the pool, the Americans scooped three gold medals in rowing, judo and gymnastics to lift their haul of medals to 37, of which 18 are gold. By the end of Day 6, China also has 18 gold but its medal total is three short of the U.S. South Korea is in third place with seven gold.
Chinese table tennis team's objective in London is four gold medals in four events. So far, it is two for two.
Top seed Zhang Jike beat Wang Hao 4-1 in the all-Chinese men's singles final, a day after Li Xiaoxia defeated compatriot Ding Ning in Wednesday's women's final.
The 24-year-old Zhang won 18-16, 11-5, 11-6, 10-12, 13-11 as Wang had to settle for the silver for a third successive Olympics. Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany defeated Chuang Chih-Yuan of Chinese Taipei for bronze.
Zhang is only the fourth man to complete the "grand slam" of World Cup, world championships and Olympic titles. The other players are countrymen Liu Guoliang, who now coaches China's men's team, and Kong Linghui as well as Swedish legend Jan-Ove Waldner.
"I am very excited," said Zhang. "It's my first Olympics and it has been my dream to win the gold medal since I started playing."
China has claimed 22 of 26 gold medals since pingpong was introduced at the Olympics in 1988.
But China missed out on its first Olympic gold in cycling when Guo Shuang and Gong Jinjie won the women's team sprint final only to be relegated to the second place soon after an illegal changeover.
Guo and Gong had earlier twice bettered the world record for the two-lap event.
Germany's Miriam Welte and Kristina Vogel then were awarded the gold medal.
On the sixth full day of competition, the hosts also had much to cheer for as they picked up three gold medals and three silver to leap into fifth place in the medals table.
Shooting star Peter Wilson, the world record holder, held nerve to win the men's double trap at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
Team GB earned a 1-2 finish in the two-man canoe slalom in front of a jubilant home crowd, before cyclists Philip Hindes, Jason Kenny and Chris Hoy broke the world record twice en route to the men's team sprint crown.
Italy won a gold in women's fencing, with a 45-32 victory over defending champions Russia in the final of the women's foil team event.