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Phelps: 18 Gold, 22 Overall & Done

Aug 4, 2012  - Craig Lord

Olympic Games, London, Day 8 finals: 

Men's 4x100m medley

The last masterstroke is done. Michael Phelps will hang up his golden goggles as the undisputed greatest of greats after joining US medley relay teammates for one last push into outer orbit. The plinth in the pantheon of greats he lords over stands 18 gold and 22 medals tall. Phenomenal.

Matt Grevers was out in 52.58 on backstroke , before the final showdown of Brendan Hansen and Kosuke Kitajima (JPN) unfolded, the greatest breaststroke swimmer of all time putting Japan ahead on 1:51.56 to 1:51.77. 

In went Takeshi Matsuda, chased by Phelps. At the turn on butterfly, Matsuda turned in 2:25.34, Phelps in 2:15.60. Off the wall, the great white to end them all surged and within 15m had powered back into the lead for the USA, a nation that has never lost the medley crown. 

His last stroke looked dodgy before determined: would he glide or stab? Phelps was not about to end his days with a glide - and Nathan Adrian knew it. Any risk of a DQ was averted with steady speed. In the water, Adrian lived up to his status as the 100m Olympic champion on freestyle, delivering gold almost 5m clear by the close, on 3:29.35,  Phelps last hurrah as certain and sure as any victory he has ever had.

Japan took silver in 3:31.26, Australia bronze in 3:31.58, that locking Britain out in its last bid for the podium at a home Games in  3:32.32.

Phelps hugged Hansen, who had a kind word in the ear of the greatest, smiles all round, before the US quartet huddled together in a celebratory embrace.

The undisputed greatest of greats, with 18 gold medals out of 22 overall. His gold tally is double next best, his coach Bob Bowman the maestro to the greatest aquatic tune ever sung in the race pool, the composer of the finest movement ever heard in the Olympic arena.

Pub games? Lord Coe must surely have been joking. These are the Olympic Games he's running in London - and the greatest of greats just got greater at his swansong: farewell Phelps, the greatest.

There has been nothing like it, Olympic bosses doubtless salivating over their superlatives. Or not. "This is the global pub game," said Coe, who won less than a handful of medals himself at the 1980 and 1984 Games. "Who is the greatest Olympian of all time? I could go around this whole room, we'd all come up with different interpretations on that. But you have to say he's up there. But whether he is the greatest, in my opinion, probably not."

He mentioned Jesse Owens in one interview, one of the greats of Olympic history not only because of his athletic prowess but the historical backdrop of the times, racism at the hand of Hitler and his home nation in the mix. Great story - but nothing to do with the greatest. that comes down to doing what athletes have come to do every four years, war apart, since 1896: win.

Phelps is the winningest of them all - and his story exceptional. In London, not only did he emerge as the most successful swimmer of the Games for a third Games in succession, his six medals including four gold and two silver the sequel to eight gold medals in Beijing 2008 and six gold medals and two bronze in Athens 2004. 

The layers of Phelps' accomplishments reach down to the sea bed. Greats such as Alexander Popov, Kieran Perkins and Grant Hackett had tried and failed to win the same race at three Games. Phelps arrived with four chances of doing so in individual events. He hit the target in the 200m medley and then backed up in the 100m butterfly. Just for good measure, he also "three-peated", as Americans say, in the 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays. 

If his golden tally of 18 includes a record 10 solo crowns, the count with relays is twice as many gold medals as the next best, the previous record of 9 shared by Larisa Latynina, the Soviet gymnast, Mark Spitz, the American swimmer, and athletes, Paavo Nurmi, of Finland, and Carl Lewis, the American who proves to Usain Bolt and Lord Coe that multiple medal winning is just as possible over in the stadium if you have the weapons.

Phelps' armoury has been like no other in history.