Michael Phelps completed his stunning display of swimming supremacy with an historic eighth gold medal at the Beijing Games on Sunday, and said his every Olympic aim was achieved.
”Everything was accomplished,” Phelps said. ”Doing all best times, winning every race.”
It was a feat that many believed couldn’t be done, and he did it in emphatic style.
Seven of Phelps’s eight gold medals were won in world-record time. The only exception was the 100m butterfly, won in a personal best of 50,58 seconds that was just one-100th of a second in front of Serbian Milorad Cavic.
Along the way to surpassing Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven gold at one Games, Phelps scaled the summit of Olympic achievement, matching and then surging past the record nine career gold medals of Games icons Spitz, Paavo Nurmi, Carl Lewis and Larysa Latynina.
But the dream, Phelps said, wasn’t just about individual glory, but about changing the face of swimming forever.
”It’s fun,” Phelps said. ”From here it is a continuation with my goal of raising the sport of swimming as high as I can in the US … 70 000 fans will be watching the relay at the [NFL] Ravens game tonight [the team based in his home town of Baltimore], and it has been shown at sports events across the country.
”I have heard people say it’s crazy, they are out to dinner and swimming is on the television. For me, it’s still work in progress.”
For the fiercely competitive Phelps, there was also the satisfaction of proving the doubters wrong.
”The greatest thing is proving nothing is impossible,” Phelps said. ”So many people said it couldn’t be done, but all it takes is an imagination. That is something I have learned.”
Phelps had opened the swimming competition with a victory in the first event, the 400m individual medley, and went on to win the 200m medley, 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m freestyle and both the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays.
Seven of his golds — including the first six — all came with world records, while his seventh, in the 100m butterfly, was by a margin of just one-100th of a second.
He had a narrow escape in the 4x100m freestyle relay. Phelps led off the US challenge with a personal best time, but anchor Jason Lezak trailed French sprint star Alain Bernard at the final turn and only sealed the win by a fingertip.
”That kept it alive,” said Phelps’s long-time coach and mentor Bob Bowman. ”After the 200 IM, I started to think we could get there, that was when I allowed myself to believe a little bit, it was pretty exciting.”
Phelps’s 200m free triumph was a dominant display. In both the 200m and 400m medleys he saw off the challenge of Hungarian Laszlo Cseh and Ryan Lochte in world-record times, while his 200m butterfly win saw him improve his world record despite the distraction of water-filled goggles.
In all he swam 17 times over nine days, carefully measuring his effort and always coming through when it mattered.
”It has been from getting my hand on the wall and winning by one-100th to doing my best times in every event,” he said. ”It has been nothing but an upward roller-coaster, and it has also been nothing but fun.”
In Athens four years ago, Phelps won six gold medals (100m and 200m butterfly, 200m and 400m individual medley, 4x200m freestyle relay and 4x100m medley relay), and two bronze (200m free and 4x100m free relay).
At the age of 23, Phelps has set a record for the total number of medals won by a male Olympian with 16.
Russian gymnast Nikolai Andrianov with 15 — seven gold, five silver and three bronze in 1972, 1976 and 1980 — had held the mark.
Only Latynina’s 18 career medals exceed Phelps’s total.
”Michael Phelps — you can’t put it in words what he has done here, his level of achievement is phenomenal and I don’t think it will ever be seen again,” said Australian distance great Grant Hackett. ”I said before he could win six or seven medals, but he would need a bit of luck to get the eight … it all lined up for him.” — Sapa-AFP