Michael Phelps (search) won his first Olympic gold medal and broke his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley Saturday night, an impressive start to his quest to eclipse Mark Spitz's (search) 1972 record of seven gold medals.

Phelps won with a time of 4 minutes, 8.26 seconds, breaking the record of 4:08.41 that he set last month at the U.S. Olympic trials in Long Beach, Calif.

The Americans went 1-2. Erik Vendt (search) of North Easton, Mass., duplicated his silver medal performance at the Sydney Games (news - web sites) four years ago, though far behind Phelps at 4:11.81. Laszlo Cseh of Hungary claimed bronze in 4:12.15.

Spitz won his seven golds at the Munich Games. Phelps, a 19-year-old from Baltimore, has seven more chances at gold — four individual events and three relays.

Phelps' first final was one of his surest bets. Last month, he lowered his own world record at the U.S. trial — a time that was nearly four seconds faster than anyone else in the world this year coming into Athens.

Phelps cruised into the final with a time of 4:13.29 in the morning preliminaries, coasting through the breaststroke and freestyle legs of the grueling race after building a comfortable lead.

He went much faster in the final, building a full body-length lead by the time the eight swimmers went down and back on the butterfly. The margin was nearly 3 1/2 seconds at the end of the backstroke leg.