Olympics 2012: Michael Phelps bids farewell
| London: The first Olympic medal came on a humid August night beneath the Athenian stars eight years ago, and the 22th - the last one for Michael Phelps - arrived Saturday beneath the curved roof of the London Aquatics Centre.
Phelps, the most prolific medallist the Olympics have ever witnessed, put the finishing touches on his glittering Olympic career in a team relay at London Olympics Saturday.
The 27-year-old says goodbye to Olympics, to competitors and fans, and to his career which has seen him mature from a restless kid who found an outlet for his energy in the water to a cross-over star with all the trappings of modern celebrity.
The men`s 4x100m medley relay Saturday evening was the last event concluding the eight-day swimming competition at London Games, also Phelps` swansong.
To the loudest roars of the week, he took team US from second place back to the first in his butterfly leg, after a slow lead-off from his teammate in the backstroke leg.
When Phelps saw compatriot Nathan Adrian powering home first to take the team gold, he raised his fist, spreading his long arms and letting out an extended bellow.
His mother and sister, cheering for him on the tribune, shed tears. Bob Bowman, who has coached Phelps since he was 11, gave him a long and big hug.
"I love you. We did it," Bob said.
"Yes, we did," Phelps replied.
Four gold medals and two silvers from his seven events in London have already made him biggest winner in pool, as well as the greatest Olympian ever with a record of 22 Olympic medals, including 18 golds.
It is a day for Phelps, indeed.
The Baltimore Bullet was rewarded a special statuette from FINA - "The greatest Olympian of all time".
"I had a great end to a great run. Time to say goodbye," said Phelps.
"I`m leaving at a good time. The sport is going to be fun to watch. I`m excited to see it from the outside more than anything and see what these guys continue to do to change the sport," he added.
Eight years ago in Athens, the opening night in the open-air pool had seen Phelps lay down a monumental marker - a first Olympic gold collected in world record time.
Eight years on, he has broken 36 world records and 16 Olympic records, and owns 26 world titles to add to his Olympic honours.
As the top draw in London, Phelps` London tour has been a mixture of doubts, confusion and relief.
"Horrible" was how Phelps described his first swim in London as he only survived a slight 0.07 second edge over the ninth fastest in the 400m individual medley heats to scrap into the final.
The defending champion faded over on the last lap in the final to finish an embarrassing fourth place as compatriot Ryan Lochte surged to gold.
The horrors of Phelps` first event were followed by his explosive leg in the 4x200m freestyle relay and a surprising overturn by South Africa`s Chad le Clos on the final stroke in his signature 200m butterfly.
After wasting the chances, he staged two emphatic victories in 200m individual medley and 100m butterfly, making himself the first male swimmer to win the same event in three straight Olympics.
"It was hard and special. I fell short in the first couple of events, so to be able to do something no man has done before is so cool," said Phelps, referring to his three-peat.
The next day, he staged a devastating burst after a slow start in his favoured 100m butterfly, flew over startled rivals and never looked back to seal the gold.
In 2001, Phelps became history`s youngest world record holder in the 200m butterfly at the age of 15.
During his time away from swimming after the Beijing Games, Phelps packed on nearly seven kilograms and contemplated retirement. But after time to reflect, he came back and targeted more glory at the 2012 London Olympics.
To some extent, the ups and downs of the past few years have removed the pressure for perfection and given Phelps time to look back at the entire arc of his Olympic career.
"When it is all over, it hits me emotionally," said Phelps, tears in his eyes.
"It has been a long career," he said. "It`s time to hang up my suit."
First Published: Sunday, August 05, 2012, 14:20
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