Although Michael Phelps had won a record 17 Olympic titles going into his last race yesterday, he still had one more goal: keep the U.S. dominance of the men’s 400-meter medley relay going.
The 27-year-old American helped the U.S. team, which also included Matthew Grevers, Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian, to win the last race at London’s Aquatics Centre yesterday. Japan took silver and Australia took bronze.
An American team has won the 400-meter medley relay every Olympics since 1980, when the U.S. boycotted the Moscow games.
“Being able to step up with those four guys and do something like that and continue that streak is something very important to us,” Phelps said. With the win, the native of Towson, Maryland, was ready to hang up his goggles.
Phelps, who hugged his teammates after the victory, had said before the games he plans to retire after his fourth and final Olympics. He made his debut as a 15-year-old at the 2000 Sydney games.
On the last day of swimming in London, Phelps swam butterfly in the next-to-last leg and made up a small deficit on Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda before Adrian powered ahead to win by a margin of 1.91 seconds.
The team held out a sign that said “Thank You London” after collecting their medals.
Earlier, the U.S. women’s team won the 400-meter medley relay in a world record time of 3 minutes, 52.05 seconds to give Colorado High School senior Missy Franklin, 17, her fourth gold of the games.
China’s Sun Yang, 20, broke his own world record by more than three seconds to win the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle in 14:31.02. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands won the women’s 50-meter freestyle in an Olympic record 24.05 seconds to add to her 100-meter title.
Phelps won a record eight titles at the 2008 Beijing games to pass the nine career gold medals of swimmer Mark Spitz, sprinter Carl Lewis, runner Paavo Nurmi and Latynina.
On Aug. 2 in London, he passed the mark of 19 medals set by former Soviet Union gymnast Larissa Latynina by winning the 200-meter individual medley.
“I told myself I never want to swim when I’m 30,” said Phelps, who added he’d achieved everything he wanted in his career. “I just don’t want to swim for another three years.”
Franklin, swimming backstroke, led after her first leg of the women’s medley. Rebecca Soni and Dana Vollmer pulled farther away before Allison Schmitt clinched victory. Australia finished second and Japan third.
“It’s been an absolutely incredible team, having the rookies really step up and have incredible performances, and the veterans as well,” Vollmer told reporters.
Between them, the U.S. four have won eight individual gold medals.
China’s Sun, who false-started, built a lead of more than three seconds before cruising to a winning margin of more than eight seconds. He wept and splashed the water as he saw he had broken his world record by 3.12 seconds.
Canadian Ryan Cochrane took silver and Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia won bronze.
“I didn’t push my body to the limit, there was still a margin to go,” Sun said. “I cried at the finish because I was afraid of the false start, I was so scared that I would be disqualified.”