Phelps looks to close career with 18th gold medal

By Paul Newberry

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Aug. 3 2012 10:54 p.m. MDT

France's Florent Manaudou holds his gold medal in the men's 50-meter freestyle swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012.

Michael Sohn, Associated Press

LONDON — One more race. Two more laps. And, in all likelihood, an 18th gold medal for Michael Phelps.

His final Olympics is turning into quite a victory lap.

Phelps will wrap up his swimming career Saturday with the butterfly leg of 4x100 medley relay, an event the U.S. men have never lost. That streak should carry right on with the Americans sending out an imposing quartet that includes three gold medalists (Phelps, freestyler Nathan Adrian and backstroker Matt Grevers), plus a guy who won bronze (breaststroker Brendan Hansen).

"I don't think Michael is going to let anything go wrong in that race," said Eric Shanteau, who swam on the U.S. relay in Friday's prelims.

Indeed, it's unfathomable to think the Phelps era could end with anything less than a performance that puts him atop the podium one last time, with yet another gold medal around his neck.

He 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.

Phelps 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 Phelps the gold in their first meeting.

"I'm just happy that the last one was a win," said Phelps, who will likely fade into retirement with twice as many golds as anyone else. "That's all I really wanted coming into the night."

He's still in race mode, at least for one more day. Phelps covered the final 50 in 26.86. Le Clos was the only other swimmer able to go under 27, and three guys failed to break 28.

"I thought it would hit me a lot harder than what it is right now," Phelps said. "I guess a lot of those emotions haven't really come through my brain over the last week."

"Once I'm done," he added, "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, 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," 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 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 Franklin, who captured her third gold of the London Games. "It's helped people rethink the impossible."

"Missy The Missile" has certainly lived up to her nickname, completing a sweep of the backstroke events in a time of 2 minutes, 4.06 seconds, easily eclipsing the record of 2:04.81 set by defending Olympic champion Kirsty Coventry at the 2009 worlds in a now-banned bodysuit.

Russia's Anastasia Zueva took silver, a body length behind Franklin in 2:05.92. Beisel put a second American on the medal podium in 2:06.55, while Coventry finished sixth.

"I can't believe what just happened," said Franklin, who had dedicated her Olympics to victims of the theater shooting not far from her Colorado home. "In that last 25, I knew I was giving it everything I had because I couldn't feel my arms and legs."

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