Aug. 05--LONDON -- Michael Phelps swam to the edge of the warm-down pool, and his coach bent over to hear him, just as he always does.
Somehow, Phelps was about to condense 16 years of swimming, a career that soon would be ending with 22 Olympic medals -- 18 of them gold -- not including the dozens of world records and multiple world championships that the 27-year-old swimmer, with his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, had achieved.
And he did it in three sentences.
Phelps, in the water, glanced at Bowman up on the deck Saturday and said: "I've looked up to Michael Jordan my whole life because he's done something that nobody else has ever done, and he's the greatest player to ever play the game. We've been able to become the best swimmer of all time. And we got here together."
Then Phelps turned to take another lap, leaving Bowman watching him swim away, just as Phelps used to do when he was 11, and the coach all of a sudden was feeling fortunate, blessed -- and a whole lot sad.
When Phelps got out of the pool, Bowman told him: "That's not fair."
"What's not fair about it," Phelps replied.
"You were in the pool."
"Yeah," Phelps said. "My tears could hide behind my goggles. Yours are streaming down your face."
A night for the ages
It was one of a thousand endings on a day filled with last times and final moments for the swimmer who officially ended his Olympic career at 8:41 London time Saturday night. And he did it after -- what else? -- another victory.
After winning his sixth medal in London -- and fourth gold -- for his splendid butterfly leg in helping the U.S. 400-meter medley relay team to victory, Phelps arrived for his final news conference of his Olympic career. He walked in carrying a silver statuette and placed it near his microphone.
The award on the nameplate, presented by the governing body for swimming, said: "To Michael Phelps -- The Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time."
"It's kind of weird looking at this," Phelps admitted.
After Phelps and his relay teammates -- Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian -- claimed the gold medal in the 400 medley with a time of 3:29.35, 1.91 seconds ahead of Japan, there was practically a receiving line of athletes from the other teams lining up to shake his hand. When Phelps started his leg -- the third -- the U.S. trailed Japan by 0.21 second; when he finished, the U.S. was 0.26 ahead.
He looked choked up and misty eyed on the podium as the national anthem played, but he didn't appear to shed a tear.
That wasn't true for his coach. Bowman has coached Phelps since he was 11. Between the 2004 Athens Olympics and the 2008 Games in Beijing, where Phelps went 8-for-8 -- eight races, eight golds -- the two were in Ann Arbor, where Bowman coached the Michigan men's swimming team and Phelps swam for Club Wolverine.
"I shed a lot of tears today, oddly, not during the race," Bowman said. "It was an emotional day."
Asked what Phelps told him immediately after the relay, Bowman's eyes welled up.
"I love you," he said.
The London Games didn't have an easy start for coach and swimmer: Phelps had finished fourth in the 400 individual medley on the opening day of the swimming competition.
Looking back, Bowman said, finishing off the podium might have been a blessing in disguise.
"The first race, I think, took the pressure off," he said. "I remember saying, 'Well, we might as well enjoy it; it doesn't look like it's going to go too well.' "
But Phelps got stronger as the Olympic meet went on. He won gold in the 200 IM and 100 fly, another individual medal -- silver -- in the 200 fly -- and took two golds and a silver in the relays. That made it six medals in all.
So how did Phelps begin his last day as an Olympian? Much of it was spent with his good friend, Canton's Allison Schmitt -- who won her fifth medal of these Games earlier in the evening when she was the surprise anchor in the women's 400 medley relay. They had breakfast together before heading out for their morning swim at the Aquatics Centre.
Schmitt, who has trained this season with Phelps at the North Baltimore (Md.) Aquatic Club, has become one of Phelps' closest friends this past year -- like brother and sister, Bowman says.
Dana Vollmer, Schmitt's relay teammate, said earlier in the day Schmitt and Phelps synchronized their dives into the pool to commemorate Phelps' final morning swim. Vollmer said she saw the photos.
"He was definitely very calm today -- and very excited," Schmitt said of Phelps. "We were talking about how the relay is the best way to end a meet. I said to him, 'Wow! This is what it's like to swim on the last day!'
"To finish off on this note, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Since last summer, Phelps has been keeping a journey of his final season of swimming. He hasn't written in it much this past week, he said, but plans to catch up soon.
Asked what he would write about Saturday, Phelps said: "I can probably sum it up in a couple of words. I'd say, 'I did it.'
"Soon enough they'll be on a piece of paper in a journal, and I'll have them forever."
Contact Jo-Ann Barnas: 313-222-2037 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @joannbarnas.
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