WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
August 4, 2012
Michael Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, had his last hurrah Saturday on the final day of swimming at London’s Aquatic Centre.
The 27-year-old ended an unprecedented Olympic career with another gold medal after bringing the U.S. team from behind in the 4×100-meter medley relay.
Phelps walked off the pool deck officially retired with 22 career medals including 18 gold medals. At these Games, Phelps won four golds and two silvers, again more medals than any other swimmer.
“I could probably sum it up in a couple words,” Phelps said. “I did it.
“I have been able to do everything I’ve wanted,” said Phelps, who made his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. “I’ve been able to put my mind to the goals that I wanted to achieve. If you can say that about your career, there’s no need to move forward. It’s been an amazing ride. I am taking everything in, the memories I have from this week will never go away.
“It’s time for other things,” Phelps said.
Including a hometown celebration parade already in the works in Baltimore for Phelps and his longtime coach Bob Bowman.
Tweeted Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, “He’s gone somewhere no man has ever been, greatest Olympian athlete ever.”
“Just witnessed the end of an era,” said Ricky Berens. “Honored to say I have been a teammate of Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian ever.”
“I don’t think his shoes will ever be filled,” said Missy Franklin. “Hopefully, I can make little paths next to him.”
Phelps was honored with a special individual ceremony after his final race with a Lifetime Achievement Award. FINA president Julio Maglione presented Phelps with a silver trophy recognizing his achievements.
The U.S. foursome of backstroker Matt Grevers, breaststroker Brendan Hansen, Phelps in the butterfly and freestyler Nathan Adrian won the final men’s relay in a textile-best 3:29.35, nearly two seconds ahead of Japan in 3:31.26 and Australia in 3:31.58.
The U.S. women’s 4×100-meter medley relay performance was even more exciting with a world-record performance from Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Dana Vollmer and Allison Schmitt in 3:52.05, ahead of Australia in 3:54.02 and Japan in 3:55.73. The women’s relay record has now been broken in five consecutive Olympic Games.
It was Franklin’s fourth gold medal and second world record, crowning her America’s new swimming queen.
“It was so perfect in absolutely every way,” Franklin said. “That was the most fun relay I’ve ever been on and to finish off with a bang. Watching Michael is so inspiring for me. It gives me so much motivation. I’m so sad it’s all over but I’ve learned so much from this experience.”
Western Kentucky’s Claire Donahue, who has trained several times at SOFLO’s Academic Village Pool, also walked away with a gold medal after swimming relay prelims.
“Gold medal baby,” Donahue tweeted. “I am an Olympic gold medalist.”
Said her coach Bruce Marchionda, “She had a great experience at this year’s Games and has represented our program and this university exceptionally well. Claire performed on the biggest stage and has made us all very proud.”
In the women’s 50-meter freestyle the race was over at the 15-meter mark as Ranomi Kromowidjojo, 21, of the Netherlands won another gold medal in an Olympic record 24.05. She also won the 100 freestyle earlier in the week. Her .23 second margin of victory in the 50 was one of the most dominant in the event since 1968.
Belarus’ Aliaksandra Herasimenia took silver in 24.28 and 33-year-old mom Marleen Veldhuis of the Netherlands won the bronze in 24.39. Defending champion Britta Steffen of Germany was fourth in 24.46. Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, the first swimmer from the Bahamas to make a final, was eighth in 24.69. American Jessica Hardy was seventh in 24.62.
Despite a few anxious moments in the men’s 1500-meter freestyle, China’s Sun Yang, shaking off an inadvertent false start after hearing a whistle in the stands, shattered his own world record in 14:31.02. Sun was on world record pace early in the race and never relented. Canadian Ryan Cochrane took the silver in 14:39.63 and Tunisia’s defending Olympic champion Ous Mellouli was third in 14:40.31. There are now four men in the mile that are under 14:40.
“My coach said I was in good shape and that I could break my world record,” Sun said.
The U.S. swimming team’s medal total was 30, 16 of them gold. It was the team’s most impressive showing since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Overall, nine world records were broken in the textile era. Only Phelps and Soni were able to successfully defend their Beijing crowns.
The women’s gold medal came down to a sprint to the finish for Switzerland’s Nicola Spirig to edge Sweden’s Lisa Norden in a photo finish. Spirig, a surprise winner, covered the 1,500-meter swim, 26.7-mile bike and 6.2-mile run course at Hyde Park in 1 hour, 59 minutes and 48 seconds. It was Switzerland’s first medal of the Games. Aussie Erin Densham took the bronze in 1:59:50, edging American Sara Groff who finished in 2 hours.
Reigning world champion Helen Jenkins of Great Britain faded to fifth. On Sunday, former Florida Atlantic University cross country runner and Florida Gold Coast swimmer Manny Huerta of Miami will compete for a medal against a stacked field in the men’s triathlon on the same course. Huerta will be joined by teammate Hunter Kemper, a four-time Olympian.
Laura Reback Bennett, a former North Palm Beach Swim Team swimmer and at 37, the oldest woman in the field, was in the lead pack after the swim and bike but faded on the run to finish 17th in 2:02:17.
“I just don’t think I had the legs for it,” Bennett said. “I didn’t really feel great all day, to be honest, and I don’t really know why. It’s just some days you just don’t show up.”
Bennett’s husband Greg is a top pro triathlete in Australia.
“In Australia, you can become a professional triathlete at 16 and it is acceptable not to go to college and focus on racing and make a profession of it,” Bennett said.
“I think that is why the Australians have dominated. I think that is one of the hiccups in the U.S. We are not getting the athletes until they are out of college.”
China’s Wu Mingxia , the top qualifier for the women’s 3-meter springboard finals, is five dives away from winning a gold medal and clinching her record-tying sixth Olympic diving medal. Mingxia qualified with a 32.30-point cushion ahead of Italy’s Tania Cagnotto, a four-time Olympian. Americans Cassidy Krug was fifth qualifier and teammate Christina Loukas was sixth. The finals are Sunday.
Serbia handed the U.S. men’s team its first loss of the Olympics, 11-6. Vanja Udovicic scored three goals for Serbia which jumped out to a 3-0 lead and had an 8-3 lead early in the second half. The U.S. tried to play catch up. Serbia remains unbeaten at 4-0. The U.S. has already secured a spot in the quarterfinals in the group play. Hungary and the U.S. will play in their final group game.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org