Phelps adds another victory in relay to conclude career
LONDON – As if 22 medal ceremonies over the last three Olympics weren’t enough, Michael Phelps was summoned back to the pool deck for one more accolade.
This time, he received a trophy rather than a medal, an award that sought to sum up a career like no other.
“To Michael Phelps,” it said, “the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.”
Too bad it was silver. Gold was the only color for this guy.
In a final race that was more a coronation than a contest, Phelps headed into retirement the only way imaginable – with an 18th gold medal. Reclaiming the lead with his trademark butterfly stroke, the one seen in his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old in Sydney a dozen years ago, he capped off a mind-boggling career with a victory in the 4x100-meter medley relay Saturday in 3 minutes, 29.35 seconds.
“I’ve been able to do everything that I wanted,” Phelps said.
When it was done, he hugged his teammates – Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian – before heading off the deck for the final time in his hip-hugging swimsuit. He waved to the crowd and smiled, clearly at peace with his decision to call it a career.
Phelps, 27, retires with twice as many golds as any other Olympian, and his total of 22 medals is the best mark, too. The 27-year-old could surely swim on for another Olympics, maybe two, but there’s really no point.
“I told myself I never want to swim when I’m 30,” Phelps said. “No offense to those people who are 30, but that was something I always said to myself, and that would be in three years. I just don’t want to swim for those three years.”
He hugged his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, who was teary eyed as he whispered three words that said it all, “I love you.” Their partnership was formed 16 years ago, when Bowman took a gangly, hyperactive kid with an extraordinary gift and helped turn him into a swimmer the likes of which the world had never seen.
Phelps wasn’t the only star of the night. Missy Franklin capped off a brilliant Olympic debut by helping the U.S. take gold in the women’s 400 medley relay with a world-record time.
Franklin grabbed the lead right away in the backstroke, Rebecca Soni stretched out the advantage in the breast, Dana Vollmer cruised through the fly and Allison Schmitt finished it off in the free, pulling away for a time of 3:52.05, beating the mark of 3:52.19 set by China in 2009.
It was the second world record of the night and ninth of the Olympic meet.
China’s Sun Yang sprinted to the finish of the sport’s most grueling race to crush the world record he already held in the 1,500 freestyle with a sizzling time of 14:31.02.
The U.S. dominated the medal count at the pool, finishing with 16 golds and 28 medals overall.
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