Phenomenal Phelps bows out with 23

American swimmer Michael Phelps, who has become the most decorated Olympian of all time, says he is happy now after Rio, as he heads into retirement.
An emotional Michael Phelps waving his farewell from beside the Olympic pool after finishing his final swim at the Games with a "cherry on the top of the cake" 23rd gold in the 4x100m medley relay.
An emotional Michael Phelps waving his farewell from beside the Olympic pool after finishing his final swim at the Games with a "cherry on the top of the cake" 23rd gold in the 4x100m medley relay.PHOTO: REUTERS

Coach Bowman says likes of American come 'once in 10 generations' after he wins his final Olympic swim race

RIO DE JANEIRO • In the same way the Christ the Redeemer statue dominates the Rio skyline, so does Michael Phelps now transcend swimming.

It did not require one final gold medal on Saturday in the 4x100 medley relay - his 23rd gold and 28th Olympic medal - to reinforce his status as the most decorated Olympian of all time, but he delivered it anyway.

The outstretched arms of Phelps will encourage swimmers to aim higher for as long as there is water on the surface of the earth.

The chances of any other male athlete from any sport eclipsing Phelps's tally are not so much remote as they are inconceivable.

  • GOLDEN RUN

  • 23

    ATHENS 2004

    Aug 14

    400m individual medley

    Aug 16

    200m butterfly

    Aug 17

    4x200m freestyle

    Aug 19

    100m butterfly

    Aug 19

    200m individual medley

    Aug 21

    4x100m medley

    BEIJING 2008

    Aug 10

    400m individual medley

    Aug 11

    4x100m freestyle

    Aug 12

    200m freestyle

    Aug 13

    4x200m freestyle

    Aug 13

    200m butterfly

    Aug 15

    200m individual medley

    Aug 16

    100m butterfly

    Aug 18

    4x100m medley

    LONDON 2012

    July 31

    4x200m freestyle

    Aug 2

    200m individual medley

    Aug 3

    100m butterfly

    Aug 4

    4x100m individual medley

    RIO 2016

    Aug 7

    4x100m freestyle

    Aug 9

    200m butterfly

    Aug 9

    4x200m freestyle

    Aug 11

    200m individual medley Aug 13 4x100m medley

Maybe the remarkable Katie Ledecky, still only 19, will move into similarly rarified territory but she will have to dig extraordinarily deep over the next dozen years to do so.

The phenomenal Phelps has taken the art of winning to a level beyond human imagination.

His 23rd gold also took him to a personally significant mark; his great hero Michael Jordan always wore that number for the Chicago Bulls.

"Twenty-three is a special number," he admitted. "It always has been and now it'll be even more special.

"I guess everything happens for a reason. Watching what he did in basketball is something I've always dreamt of doing in the sport of swimming."

It made his last competitive Olympic swim all the more satisfying.

"It's just the perfect way to finish. This is the cherry on the top of the cake that I wanted. I couldn't be happier with the way things ended," the 31-year-old said.

His long-time coach Bob Bowman is already convinced there will never be another swimmer quite like him.

"Absolutely not. I'm not even looking. He's too special," said Bowman.

"It's not even once in a generation. It might be once in 10 generations that someone like Michael comes along. I don't think you're going to be seeing another Michael."

For his last hurrah, Phelps, watched by fiancee Nicole and baby son Boomer, was typical Phelps: the menacing hoodied, headphoned entry followed by the almost inevitable golden outcome, a shared Olympic record and a familiar podium salute.

He was more emotional than usual before the race, however, as his team-mate Ryan Murphy later confirmed. "You could see the tears in his eyes as we were walking over to the medal ceremony. He was super emotional," said the Rio backstroke king.

"If this is the end for him, that was a great way to cap off an incredible career. He's opened a lot of doors for all of us.

"Whoever you swim for, you're indebted to Michael Phelps."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Phenomenal Phelps bows out with 23'. Print Edition | Subscribe