An era of unprecedented sporting domination came to an end at the London Olympics today, with a stunning victory for Michael Phelps in his last competitive race.
Swimming the butterfly leg of the 4X100 medley relay, Michael Phelps, 27, displayed his characteristic power to close down the leading Japanese team and claim a record 18th gold medal and pull clear as the most successful Olympian of all time.
Cheered on by an appreciative crowd at the London Olympic Park Acquatic Centre, the U.S team romped home and Michael Phelps punched the sky with delight as he pulled down the curtain on his stunning career competing in the pool.
It was almost unthinkable for the Phelps era to end with anything less than a performance that puts him atop the podium one last time, with yet another gold medal around his neck, his 22 in all.
Michael Phelps picked up his 17th gold on Friday in his final individual race, the 100-meter butterfly, making the turn in seventh but rallying for a victory that was actually much more comfortable than his margin in the last two Olympics – a combined five-hundredths of a second.
He slammed the wall in 51.21 seconds for payback against the guy who edged him in the 200 fly, Chad le Clos of South Africa. No gliding into this finish, the move that cost Michael Phelps the gold in their first meeting.
“Once I’m done, I think there’s going to be a lot more emotion that really comes out.”
Don’t fret about American swimming after he’s gone. Led by a pair of high schoolers, the post-Phelps era will be in very good hands.
In what amounted to a symbolic changing of the guard, Michael Phelps’ victory in the 100 fly was sandwiched between 17-year-old Missy Franklin breaking a world record in the backstroke and 15-year-old Katie Ledecky taking down a hallowed American mark that was set nearly eight years before she was born.
“This has sort of turned into the youth Olympics,” Missy Franklin said.
“There’s so many members of the team that are coming up this year that are going to carry on this incredible generation.”
No one is more incredible than Michael Phelps.
It always takes him a while to get up to speed, but he brought it home like a champion. That, in a sense, sums up his Olympics farewell.
He got off to a sluggish start but has three victories in the past four days, giving him 21 medals overall.
“He has made a world of difference for swimming,” said Missy Franklin, who captured her third gold of the London Games.
“It’s helped people rethink the impossible.”
In Michael Phelps’ victory, Chad le Clos tied with Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin for the silver in 51.44. Milorad Cavic, who lost to Phelps by one-hundredth of a second in Beijing, tied for fourth in 51.81, not even close in their final meeting.
“I cannot be compared to Michael Phelps,” said Milorad Cavic, who also plans to retire after the London Games.
“I’m a one-trick pony.”