Michael Phelps remained on course for an unprecedented eight gold medals at the Beijing Games on Monday, thanks to teammate Jason Lezak's dazzling display in America's epic 4x100m freestyle relay victory.
Lezak delivered the final piece of a world record-shattering swim of 3min 08.24sec, mowing down France's vaunted sprinter Alain Bernard in the final metres to keep Phelps's quest alive by a hair's breadth.
When his veteran teammate touched the wall, Phelps let out a scream of triumph.
"I've never celebrated that much after a race in my life," Phelps said. "We had to do everything as a team to win that race and we did.
Still trailing at the final turn, Lezak relentlessy pursued Bernard, but it wasn't until the final 10 meters that the American was able to pull level and, finally edge ahead as he touched with an astonishing split of 46.06sec.
Phelps's lead-off time of 47.51 was an American record — just one-hundredth of a second off Bernard's world mark coming into the Games.
The French - Amaury Leveaux, Fabien Gilot, Frederick Bousquet and Bernard - took the silver in 3:08.32.
Adding to French disappointment, Bernard's individual 100m free world record of 47.50 was eclipsed by lead-off swimmer Eamon Sullivan, who clocked 47.24 in setting Australia on course for bronze in 3:09.91.
All three medal-winning squads — as well as fourth-placed Italy and fifth-placed Sweden — were under the world record of 3:12.23 set by the US heat swimmers on Sunday night.
The relay had been touted as the biggest stumbling block to Phelps's bid to surpass Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record of seven gold medals at one Games.
With eight events on his schedule - five individual and three relays - Phelps has no room for error.
"I think Michael knows we didn't do this for him," Lezak said. "Whether he wins eight medals or not, it wasn't going to be our responsibility."
But Phelps owed his teammates a debt of gratitude for his second victory of the Games, after his world record-breaking triumph in the 400m individual medley.
With the two dangerous races behind him, Phelps sounded frighteningly confident.
"I started out with the hardest one," he said of the medley. "It's out of the way now and I'm just swimming to have fun."
He came back in the evening and eased to the fastest qualifying time in the 200m butterfly heats, continuing to work his way through the 17 swims he'll need over the nine days of competition if he is to topple Spitz.
He was already focussed on Tuesday's main task.
In addition to the two world marks broken in the relay, three more world records fell at the Water Cube on Monday.
One of them belonged to Japan's Kosuke Kitajima, who defended his 100m breaststroke gold from Athens in a world record of 58.91sec.
Kitajima, who broke the previous record of 59.13 owned by American Brendan Hansen, called his race "perfect and ideal".
"This is what I have been hoping for," said Kitajima, who will launch his defense of the 200m breaststroke title on Tuesday.
The other two world records came outside of the finals.
Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry broke the women's 100m backstroke world record with a time of 58.77sec in the semi-finals, and Italian Federica Pellegrini bounced back from disappointment in the 400m free final to set a world record of 1:55.45 in the 200m freestyle heats.
Libby Trickett couldn't erase the second-oldest record on the books in the 100m butterfly, but the Australian star did earn the first individual Olympic gold of her career with a personal best time of 56.73sec.
Christine Magnuson of the United States took silver in 57.10, with Australia's Jessicah Schipper third in 57.25.
Rebecca Adlington, 19, became the first British woman in 48 years to capture Olympic swimming gold with a superb win in the 400m free.