- Associated Press - Saturday, August 4, 2012

LONDON — As if 22 medal ceremonies over the last three Olympics weren’t enough, Michael Phelps was summoned back to the pool deck for one more accolade.

This time, he received a trophy rather than a medal, an award that sought to sum up a career like no other.

“To Michael Phelps,” it said, “the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.”

Too bad it was silver.

Gold was the only color for this guy.

In a final race that was more a coronation than a contest, Phelps headed into retirement the only way imaginable — with an 18th gold medal. Reclaiming the lead with his trademark butterfly stroke, the one seen in his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old in Sydney a dozen years ago, he capped off a mind-boggling career with a victory in the 4x100-meter medley relay Saturday.

“I’ve been able to do everything that I wanted,” Phelps said.

When it was done, he hugged his teammates — Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian — before heading off the deck for the final time in his hip-hugging swimsuit. He waved to the crowd and smiled, clearly at peace with his decision to call it a career.

And what a career it was!

“I was able to really put the final cherry on top tonight, put all the whipped cream I wanted and sprinkles. I was able to top off the sundae,” Phelps said. “It’s been a great career. It’s been a great journey. I can’t be any more happy than I am.”

Phelps retires with twice as many golds as any other Olympian, and his total of 22 medals is easily the best mark, too. He can be quite proud of his final Olympics as well, even though there were times he had trouble staying motivated after winning a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games four years ago.

The 27-year-old could surely swim on for another Olympics, maybe two, but there’s really no point.

“I told myself I never want to swim when I’m 30,” Phelps said. “No offense to those people who are 30, but that was something I always said to myself, and that would be in three years. I just don’t want to swim for those three years.”

He hugged his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, who was teary eyed as he whispered three words that said it all, “I love you.” Their partnership was formed 16 years ago, when Bowman took a gangly, hyperactive kid with an extraordinary gift and helped turn him into a swimmer the likes of which the world had never seen.

Bob and I have somehow managed to do every single thing,” Phelps said. “If you can say that about your career, there’s no need to move forward. Time for other things.”

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