August 18, 2004 08:00 AM

There was a splendid turnaround at the Olympics in Athens Tuesday, with American swimmer Michael Phelps winning a pair of gold medals, opening the night by setting an Olympic record of 1:54.04 in the 200-meter event.

The 19-year-old sensation came in just behind his own world record time (1:53.93), but he broke the Olympic standard set by teammate Tom Malchow in 2000.

But it was Klete Keller who anchored the 400-meter freestyle relay, scoring Phelps the second gold after holding off the seemingly unstoppable Ian Thorpe of Australia.

The team won in 7 minutes, 7.33 seconds. The defending champion Aussies made it in 7:07.46. Italy, taking the bronze, did it in 7:11.83.

Of his 200-butterfly victory, Phelps, who on Monday lost his bid to tie Mark Spitz’s 1972 Olympics record of seven gold medals, said Tuesday’s relay “will go down as one of the greatest in history.”

Over the weekend, Phelps won the 400-meter individual medley and added bronzes in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay over the weekend.

In other competitions, the U.S. fencing team won its first-ever women’s medals, with Mariel Zagunis taking the gold. Sada Jacobsen claimed the bronze with a 15-7 victory over Catalina Gheorghitoaia of Romania.

The U.S. women’s gymnastics team faced minor disappointment on Tuesday, however: settling for silver, behind Romania.

One of the American gymnasts, captain Mohini Bhardwaj, who earlier this year was deep in debt and unable to afford to attend June’s U.S. Olympic trials, had a special benefactor: onetime Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson, who backed her with a $25,000 gift.

Anderson created a foundation on Bhardwaj’s behalf and has been asking for donations through her Web site. Speaking about their friendship, Bhardwaj said: “She sent me a huge bouquet of flowers before I came out here. I talk to her once in a while.”

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