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Mission accomplished: Phelps earns eighth gold in medley relay

8/18/2008

BEIJING -- Michael Phelps locked arms with his three
teammates, as though they were in a football huddle calling a play,
then hugged each one of them.

It took a team to make him the grandest of Olympic champions.
And one last big push from Phelps himself.

Going hard right to the end of a mesmerizing nine days in
Beijing, Phelps helped the Americans come from behind Sunday in a
race they've never lost at the Olympics, cheering from the deck as
Jason Lezak brought it home for a world record in the 400-meter
medley relay. It was Phelps' history-making eighth gold medal of
these games.

"Everything was accomplished," he said. "I will have the
medals forever."

Phelps sure did his part to win No. 8, eclipsing Mark Spitz's
seven-gold performance at the 1972 Munich Games.

Aaron Peirsol got the Americans off to the lead in the
backstroke, but Brendan Hansen -- a major disappointment in this
Olympic year -- slowed them down with only the third-fastest
breaststroke leg.

By the time Phelps dived in for the butterfly, the U.S. was
trailing Australia and Japan.

That's when he really went to work.

With his long arms whirling across the water like propellers,
Phelps caught the two guys ahead of him on the return lap and
passed off to Lezak a lead of less than a second for the freestyle.
The Australians countered with former world record-holder Eamon
Sullivan as their anchor.

"I was thinking not to blow the lead," Lezak said. "I was
really nervous."

Sullivan tried to chase down Lezak and appeared to be gaining as
they came to the wall, but Lezak finished in 3 minutes, 29.34
seconds -- Phelps' seventh world record in his personal Great Haul
of China.

The Aussies took silver in 3:30.04, also under the old world
record of 3:30.68 set by the U.S. in Athens four years ago, while
Japan held on for the bronze.

Phelps leaned over the blocks, looking to make sure Lezak
touched first. Assured the Americans had won, he thrust both index
fingers in the air, pumped his right arm and let out a scream.
Peirsol also yelled and slapped Phelps in the chest.

Spitz's iconic performance was surpassed by a swimmer fitting of
this generation: a 23-year-old from Baltimore who loves hip-hop
music, texting with his buddies and wearing his cap backward.

"I don't even know what to feel right now," Phelps said.
"There's so much emotion going through my head and so much
excitement. I kind of just want to see my mom."

Debbie Phelps was sitting in the stands at the Water Cube, tears
streaming down her cheeks, her two daughters by her side. After
getting his gold, Phelps quickly found his family, climbing through
a horde of photographers to give all three a kiss.

Mom put her arm around his neck and gave him a little extra hug.

Her son sure earned it.

"The Beijing Olympics has witnessed the greatest Olympian of
all time -- Michael Phelps of the USA," the announcer said as
Phelps posed with his teammates.

The Americans still had to wait a couple of tantalizing minutes
for the official results to be posted. Finally, it flashed on the
board.

World record.

Gold medal No. 8.

"Nothing is impossible," Phelps said. "With so many people
saying it couldn't be done, all it takes is an imagination, and
that's something I learned and something that helped me."

President Bush called Phelps on Sunday morning from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, telling him, "If you can handle eight gold medals, you can handle anything."

A White House spokesman says Bush told Phelps that he and first lady Laura Bush were proud of the swimmer's achievements and that he handled himself with "humility."

And the president told Phelps to give his mom a big hug for him.

Phelps, who won three relays in Beijing along with five
individual races, gave a shout-out to all his teammates for helping
him take down Spitz.

"Without the help of my teammates this isn't possible," he
said. "I was able to be a part of three relays and we were able to
put up a solid team effort and we came together as one unit.

"For the three Olympics I've been a part of, this is by far the
closest men's team that we've ever had. I didn't know everybody
coming into this Olympics, but I feel going out I know every single
person very well. The team that we had is the difference."

Phelps set seven world records and one Olympic record, doing a
personal best time in every event.

"It can't be described. We'll never, ever see it again," said
Australian distance king Grant Hackett, who came up short in his
bid to win a third straight 1,500 freestyle title.

Beforehand, Hackett figured Phelps was likely to win six golds,
just as he did in Athens four years ago when the first attempt to
beat Spitz's record came up just short.

"Everything lined up for him incredibly," Hackett said. "He's
a nice guy, a good bloke, and the last few years I've never seen
him change."

Back in Baltimore, some 10,000 fans hung around after an NFL
preseason game to watch the relay on the stadium's big screen.

"I think he's going to be a legend forever," Ravens fan Ann
Williams said.

Phelps won some races by ridiculously large margins, others with
the closest of finishes -- most memorably, his seventh gold by
one-hundredth of a second over Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100
fly. Along the way, he became the winningest Olympian ever and left
China with 14 career golds -- five more than anyone else with at
least one more Olympics to go.

"It's been nothing but an upwards roller-coaster and it's been
nothing but fun," Phelps said.

Hackett failed to become the first man to win the same event at
three straight Olympics.

The Aussie was upset in swimming's version of the mile by Ous
Mellouli, who won Tunisia's first Olympic gold at the pool in
14:40.84.

"It's like 90 yards of a touchdown. It was so close, but I
didn't have much of a response," Hackett said. "It's
disappointing I didn't win. I have no regrets, it certainly was a
close race."

Mellouli held off Hackett in the closing meters of the grueling
race, swimming's version of the mile. Hackett earned the silver in
14:41.53, well off his 7-year-old world record of 14:34.56.

"He's never hung on like that in the past," Hackett said of
the winner. "He was the better competitor."

Mellouli, who trains in Southern California, was coming off a
suspension after testing positive for amphetamines.

Ryan Cochrane of Canada took the bronze in 14:42.69.

After receiving his eighth gold, Phelps received another award
from FINA, the sport's governing body, as the best swimmer of the
meet.

Make it the best ever.