Phelps wins record eighth Olympic gold

It was billed as a team relay race, but it was only about one man, Michael Phelps. From the moment he walked into the Water Cube swimming pool at the head of the U.S. team, all eyes were fixed on him and his quest to win a record eighth gold medal at a single Olympics.





For years, no one believed that Mark Spitz's seven gold haul from 1972 could be overtaken. On Sunday, no one believed that Phelps would not make history by going one better.



His ever-faithful mother, Debbie, was up in the stands trying to contain her emotions. His two sisters sat nervously alongside, rising to their feet when their brother's familiar shape emerged out of the corridors and into the wide, high, translucent Cube.



Phelp's pre-race ritual is about as well honed as his physique and swimming technique.



The white dressing gown, making him look like a boxer heading for the ring, the furrowed concentration and intense stare as he listens to hip-hop on his headphones.



Then the robe comes off, revealing a gigantic, triangular torso tapering down to tight hips and legs that appear positively puny by comparison with his bull-like upper body.

He stretches first one leg, then the other and shakes his enormous wingspan, which is 3 inches longer than his body, giving him extra pull when he ploughs through the water.

Normally he wipes down his starting block and headed off on Sunday towel in hand only to find a team mate already in place waiting for the go. Of course, it was a relay.

Prior to Sunday's final, he had raced 16 times, won seven gold medals and helped set six world records. He has dominated some races, scraped to victory in others - by the length of a nail clipping when he won the 100 metre butterfly on Saturday.



Few if any athletes in the world could maintain that work load and Sunday again required something special from the man from Baltimore, who had yelled and screamed at his first swimming lesson because he did not want to get his face wet.



He was third into the pool for the U.S. and the team was lying third as he set off with his galloping butterfly stroke.



By the time he had completed his 100-metre stretch, the U.S. were back in the lead, leaving freestyler Jason Lezak a clear field to bring home the gold.



Sport is full of hyperbole. The terms "historic", "heroic" or "legendary" become almost banal, but no one in the crowd could deny on Sunday they had witnessed something remarkable.



"It is astounding. His individual records will be broken, but who can say if his eight gold medals will ever be beaten," said Australia's Jenny Turral, a former swimmer whose own world record in the 1,500 metres stood for several years.



As a one-time athlete, Turral knows how hard it is to win one event, let alone eight.



"I hate the word freak, but he is in a world of his own. He is staggering," she told Reuters from the spectator's stands.



Phelps looked more like a high school kid than a superhuman as he celebrated his record, back slapping his friends who had helped carry him to greatness, a goofy grin stuck on his face.



He was still smiling when he arrived for the medal ceremony, immediately placing a large foot on the podium as if he could not wait for that eighth gold he has cherished for so long.



Up to his right, tears welled in his mother's eyes and one of sisters buried her face in her hands as she cried for joy.



Afterwards, he climbed through hordes of photographers to hug his family and then made his way back to the changing room, not even glancing back at the pool where he had re-written history.



Perhaps he was already thinking about the next race.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue