|Gold Medal man Phelps|
The greatest olympin of all the time Michale Phelps swam his last on August 4, Saturday. His rivals gave him farewel with warm handshake line behind the blocks at the London Aquatics Centre and paid homage to Michael Phelps, the lord of the Olympic rings. In his racing finale Saturday night, as a member of the U.S. men's 4x100-meter medley relay, Phelps collected his 22nd medal, and 18th gold.
Before Phelps retired, he had one last trophy to collect: a statuette that recognized his place in Olympic history and resembled a crinkled piece of aluminum foil from a foot-long sandwich.
"It's kind of weird looking at this and seeing 'Greatest Olympian of All Time,' " Phelps said, adding: "I finished my career the way I wanted to. I think that's pretty cool."
It sounds ludicrous now, but when Phelps began his journey toward becoming the Tiger Woods of swimming, he had no clue what Mark Spitz had done. Unlike Woods -- who kept a tally, like a to-do list, of the feats of his golfing idol Jack Nicklaus -- Phelps was looking to the future when he put together the most ambitious Olympic swimming program in history.
Before he became the first swimmer to race in eight Olympic events at the 2004 Games, Phelps was fuzzy on the details of Spitz's career. It was left to his coach, Bob Bowman, to fill him in on Spitz's seven-gold-medal performance at the 1972 Olympics. Similarly, Phelps said he did not know until recently about the gymnast Larisa Latynina, who reigned for nearly five decades as the most-decorated Olympian, with 18 medals.
Some architects of history work from a blueprint, and others, like Phelps, don't want to acknowledge any ceiling. Phelps transformed swimming, inspiring a generation at home and abroad, by building an audacious program out of grit, guts and a geek's burning desire to make swimming cool for kids all over the world.
"I wanted to change the sport and take it to another level," Phelps said.
Phelps, also known as the Baltimore Bullet and flying fish, began swimming at the age of seven, partly because of the influence of his sisters and partly to provide him with an outlet for his energy. When Phelps was in the sixth grade, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).By the age of 10, he held a national record for his age group, and Phelps began to train at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club under coach Bob Bowman. More age group records followed, and Phelps' rapid improvement culminated in his qualifying for the 2000 Summer Olympics at the age of 15 and becoming the youngest male to make a U.S. Olympic swim team in 68 years.
Phelps's international titles and record-breaking performances have earned him the World Swimmer of the Year Award six times and American Swimmer of the Year Award eight times. His unprecedented Olympic success in 2008 earned Phelps Sports Illustrated magazine's Sportsman of the Year award. After his last event, the international swimming federation FINA honored Phelps with an award commemorating his standing as the most decorated Olympian ever.