Phelps looks to close career with 18th gold medal

Associated Press
United States' Michael Phelps displays his gold medal for the men's 100-meter butterfly swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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LONDON (AP) — 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."

Franklin, who is competing in seven events at her first Olympics, also has a bronze and one more race to add to her haul in the 4x100 medley relay Saturday.

Unlike the men, the American women haven't won the medley relay since 2000. Australia took gold at the last two Olympics and led the way into the final as top qualifier, looking to bring a bit of joy to the battered team from Down Under, normally a powerhouse of the pool but limited to just one swimming gold so far in London.

Also on the schedule for the final night of swimming: the long (men's 1,500 freestyle) and short (women's 50 free) of it.

Sun Yang of China goes into the 1,500 with the top qualifying time, followed by defending Olympic champion Ous Mellouli of Tunisia, who also will compete in the 10-kilometer open water event at Hyde Park next week. Connor Jaeger was the lone American to make the final.

Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands led the semifinals of the 50 free, gunning for another gold to add to her victory in the 100 free. Jessica Hardy of the U.S. also qualified.

In Phelps' victory, le Clos tied with Russia's Evgeny Korotyshkin for the silver in 51.44. Milorad Cavic, who lost to Phelps by one-hundreth of a second in Beijing, tied for fourth in 51.81, not even close in their final meeting.

"I cannot be compared to Michael Phelps," said Cavic, who also plans to retire after the London Games. "I'm a one-trick pony."

Ledecky seemingly came out of nowhere to make the U.S. team, and nearly took out a world record in her first Olympics. She was ahead of Rebecca Adlington's record pace (8:14.10) from the Beijing Olympics until right at the end, finally tiring just a bit for a time of 8:14.63.

She settled for crushing Janet Evans' American mark of 8:16.22, set in Tokyo on Aug. 20, 1989.

"I figured I was going pretty fast," the teenager said.

Ledecky has plenty of time to go faster, becoming the second-youngest American swimmer to claim an individual gold medal — 75 days older than Beth Botsford was when she won the 100 backstroke at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain was far behind for silver in 8:18.76, while Britain's defending Olympic champion held on to take bronze at 8:20.32. Adlington burst into tears on the medal stand as the crowd of 17,000 chanted "Becky! Becky! Becky!"

She had no chance of catching Ledecky.

"That is nothing to be ashamed of," Adlington said. "I was disappointed with the time. I was fast all year. I know it. I don't know why I wasn't. Maybe it was the expectation, the environment, maybe it got to me a little bit."

France won its fourth gold at the pool, building on its best showing ever and denying an American sweep Friday. Florent Manaudou — younger brother of 2004 gold medalist Laure Manaudou — shocked defending Olympic champion and world record-holder Cesar Cielo of Brazil in the 50 freestyle.

Manaudou touched in 21.34 and pounded the water out in Lane 7, then got a big hug from his sister as soon as he climbed from the pool. Cullen Jones of the United States took silver in 21.54, while Cielo was left with bronze in 21.59. Anthony Ervin, the 2000 Olympic champion who came back from an eight-year retirement, finished fifth after getting off to a poor start.

"Being here is my own form of redemption," Ervin said. "What's next? I'm going to have a nice dinner with my friends and family."

What's next for Phelps?

One more race.

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