Phelps revels in the power of eight

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The Independent Online

He did it. Eight finals. Eight golds. Eight records, seven of them new world standards, and the other a fresh Olympic mark. By earning another gold medal yesterday, in the 4x100 medley relay, Michael Phelps did not so much rewrite the record books as start a new one. If he were a nation of one, he'd be looking at a top-10 finish in the medals table.

Mark Spitz's 36-year-old record of winning seven golds in one Games is gone. Phelps earned a $1m (£536,000) bonus from Speedo merely for equalling it on Saturday. He is now the most decorated Olympian by a margin of five clear golds, leading 14-9 in career tallies over his closest four rivals, Spitz, Carl Lewis, the Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi and the Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina.

Phelps has two bronzes too, from 2004 – when he won a pitiful six golds – and his total of 16 Olympic medals is now more than any other man ever. This weekend he overtook the Soviet gymnast Nikolai Andrianov's previous record of 15 (seven gold, five silver, three bronze). Only Latynina, with 18 medals (nine gold, five silver, four bronze) has more medals regardless of colour.

"Everything was accomplished that I set out to do," said the 23-year-old after he and his team-mates Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Jason Lezak had claimed the relay gold in a world record 3min 29.34sec. "It's hard to believe. All wins, all records. It was a dream that I've always lived for."

His immediate plans involved giving his mother Debbie, ever present in the stands, a big hug. And at some point soon, when the frenzy surrounding his astonishing achievements has abated, he wants a quiet lie down. "One of the things I really want to do is just lay in my own bed for five minutes and just relax," he said.

His other seven golds here were won in the 400m individual medley, the 4x100m freestyle relay, the 200m freestyle, the 200m butterfly, the 4x200m freestyle relay, the 200m individual medley and the 100m butterfly. The last of those was the only final not swum in a world record time. He settled for an Olympic record, and a winning margin over Serbia's Milorad Cavic of 4.7mm, or less than 0.01 seconds, on the touch.

Phelps recalled yesterday that at middle school, when he was around 12 years old, his English teacher told him he would never be successful. "I feel pretty successful right now," he said.

"The biggest thing is nothing is impossible," he added. "With so many people saying it [eight golds] couldn't be done, all it takes is an imagination. That's something I learned, something that helped me. Afterwards my mum just said congratulations [from the stands]. And then she started crying, and I started crying ... I don't know what to feel, so many emotions, so much excitement."

Excitement indeed, to the power of eight.

Phelps will now rest, then begin "a fun four years" of trying new events for London 2012.