The most glorious chapter in Olympic history in terms of an individual athlete’s endeavour has come to an end, providing students of the biggest youth movement of the world with enough material, and more, to soak in and savour.
A lot of encomiums have already come the way of Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever, who, in an international career spanning 16 years, has won everything in sight in the pool.
It was on a tame note that it all began. Phelps returned from Sydney 2000 with only a fifth-place finish, only to take the plunge at Athens 2004 and emerge with a haul of six gold medals and two bronzes.
At Beijing 2008, Phelps won all his eight events to surpass what was thought to be the most insurmountable record at the Games, the seven-gold haul at a single Olympics by Mark Spitz at Munich 1972, prompting the Munich hero himself to pay tribute to his young compatriot.
“Epic!” exclaimed Spitz, lapsing into superlatives. “It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he may be the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked this planet!”
The ‘Baltimore Bullet’ arrived at London 2012 where he continued to dominate the pool, coming up with another impressive tally of four gold medals and two silvers before immediately announcing his plans to retire.
But, between London and Rio, Phelps emerged out of retirement to ensure that he finished his illustrious career on Saturday night with several records against his name, none of which need to be spelt out as it all remains well documented.
His final overall Olympic medal tally of 28 medals (23-3-2) and 33 World championship medals (26-6-1) is a reflection of what Phelps himself wrote sometime back on his social networking site.
“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get,” he had posted on Facebook earlier this year.
And, on Saturday night, as the curtains came down on his protégé’s stupendous career, Phelps’s long-time coach Bob Bowman, who spotted the phenom when he was 11, said: “He has gone out on his own terms; on good terms and to a golden sunset.”