SHANGHAI - Ryan Lochte locked up two more gold medals at the swimming world championships Friday, raising his victory total to four with at least one more event to go.
The American led from start to finish in the 200-meter backstroke, then rallied the U.S. past France in the anchor leg to win the 4x200 freestyle relay.
"When Ryan is hot right now you don't want anyone else on the end of the relay," said Ricky Berens, who swam the third leg for the Americans.
Michael Phelps led off the relay, leaving the U.S. third behind Paul Biedermann of Germany and Yannick Agnel of France.
Peter Vanderkaay then put the Americans in front at the halfway mark, but France led at 600 metres before Lochte passed Fabien Gilot with only one lap to go.
"They were talking about me swimming the last leg," Vanderkaay recounted. "I said, 'Are you sure you don't want Ryan on that?' He doesn't surprise me anymore."
Earlier in the meet, Lochte won the 200 free and 200 individual medley — relegating Phelps to silver twice. He also set a world record in the 200 IM — the only world mark in swimming since high-tech bodysuits were banned 19 months ago.
Lochte has five medals in all, having also got a bronze in the 4x100 free relay on the opening night of what has turned out to be a stellar competition for the American. He'll also be favoured in the 400 IM and could swim the medley relay on the final night of competition Sunday.
Phelps, who swam the leadoff in the relay, has two golds, two silvers and one bronze.
Meanwhile, American Rebecca Soni won the 200 breaststroke to go with her 100 title from Tuesday.
Soni was being tapped for a world record in the 200 breast but struggled in the second half of the race, touching in 2:21.47 to hold off a late comeback from Yuliya Efimova of Russia. Efimova took silver in 2:22.22 and Toronto's Martha McCabe grabbed bronze in 2:24.81.
"It felt great the first 100 and then I was trying to hold on at the end," Soni said. "I ran out of gas."
Vancouver's Annamay Pierse, who set the world record of 2:20.12 in Rome, finished eighth.
Soni finished fourth in 2009 when her race strategy failed.
"I try to put that in the past," she said. "I proved I can win the gold medal."
Also, Jeanette Ottesen and Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus finished in a dead heat for gold in the women's 100 freestyle, both clocking 53.45 seconds. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands touched third in 53.66 and Francesca Halsall of Britain and Femke Heemskerk of the Netherlands tied for fourth in 53.72.
It was the second time in these championships that there was a dead heat for gold, after Camille Lacourt and Jeremy Stravius of France shared the top spot on the podium in the men's 100 backstroke Tuesday.
World record holder Britta Steffen dropped out after finishing 16th in morning heats Thursday. The German swept both the 50 and 100 free at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the last worlds in Rome two years ago.
Daniel Gyurta of Hungary overtook Olympic champion Kosuke Kitajima of Japan on the final lap to defend his title in the men's 200 breaststroke.
Gyurta clocked 2:08.41, while Kitajima, who was on a world-record pace with 50 metres to go, took the silver in 2:08.63. Christian vom Lehn of Germany earned the bronze in 2:09.06.
In the 200 back, Lochte hardly celebrated after hitting the wall in 1:52.96, more than a second in front of silver medallist Ryosuke Irie of Japan, while another American, Tyler Clary, took bronze.
Aaron Peirsol, the American who dominated this event for much of the last decade, recently retired. His world record of 1:51.92 still stands.
In the men's 50 free semifinals, Brazilians Bruno Fratus and Cesar Cielo went 1-2, with American Nathan Adrian third, while French standout Alain Bernard just made the final eight.
"It's going to be better to have my Brazilian teammate by my side," Cielo said. "I think he's hands-down the favourite for the gold tomorrow."
Cielo swept both the 50 and 100 free at the last worlds and is also the Olympic champion in the 50. He was cleared of doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week.
Phelps led the 100 butterfly semifinals in 51.47, then hurried out of the pool to prepare himself for the leadoff leg in the 4x200. Milorad Cavic, the Serb who challenged Phelps in Beijing and Rome, failed to qualify in morning heats as he recovers from back surgery.
American teenager Missy Franklin led the women's 200 backstroke semifinals, while world record holder and defending champion Kirsty Coventry failed to qualify in 12th.
Sinead Russell of Oakville, Ont., missed a berth in the final by a mere 0.01 seconds, ranking ninth in 2:08.80. That was a Canadian record eclipsing her previous mark of 2:08.89 set at the world championship team trials in April.