Phelps leaves pool for the golf courseLONDON - Flashing a lop-sided smile of satisfaction and relief, Michael Phelps finished his competitive career Saturday with 18 gold medals.
“I told myself that I never wanted to swim when I was 30,” said Phelps, 27. “I’ve been able to do everything I wanted .?.?. It’s time for other things.”
The magnitude of his achievement - 22 total medals - as he quit the pool and entered the history books can be measured by the list of other Olympic multiple medalists.
Track and field athletes Carl Lewis and Paavo Nurmi, gymnast Larisa Latynina and swimmer Mark Spitz each won nine gold medals. Latynina, 77, was in London to see Phelps overtake her previous of 18.
After his final race, Phelps accepted a silver trophy from world governing body FINA that described him as the greatest Olympian of all time. It is an accolade Phelps has never bestowed on himself.
“I have been able to become the best swimmer of all time,” he said. “I said [to Bob Bowman, his coach since age 11] we have been able to get here together and I thanked him.”
Phelps’ final Olympic campaign after he dropped the 200 freestyle from his program and aimed for seven gold medals in London started badly last July 28 when he finished fourth in the 400-meter individual medley behind compatriot Ryan Lochte.
Lochte was immediately, and prematurely, hailed as the new face of American swimming but he began to fade as Phelps started to flourish.
Beaten to the touch in the 200-meter butterfly, his signature event, Phelps retained the 100 butterfly by sheer force of will after he was seventh at the turn.
A day earlier he had won the 200 individual medley title to become the first man to win gold in an event at three straight Olympics.
“The first race took the pressure off,” Bowman said. “We said we might as well enjoy it because it doesn’t look as if it’s going to go too well.”
Asked to assess Phelps’ career, Bowman said: “It’s not only the number of medals, it’s the quality. Eighteen out of 22 gold medals? I just think the quality of it is so great, nobody can match that.”
Golf with his friend, U.S. Masters champion Bubba Watson, is on the agenda as Phelps confirmed during his final Olympic week that he would not rescind his decision to retire.