USA swimmer Michael Phelps swims in the winning the gold medal during the men's 4x100m medley relay final. (Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports)
LONDON (USA TODAY) - Water covers two-thirds of the earth's surface. The rest is covered in Michael Phelps' medals.
That, at least, is how it seemed Saturday night, as Phelps won his fourth gold medal of the Games, and 18th of his career, in the 4 x 100-meter medley relay, last race of an implausibly incomparable career. Fittingly, Phelps was the one who took the lead back from Japan in a see-saw race. His butterfly leg set up anchor Nathan Adrian to bring it home.
And just like that, the swimmer who'd swallowed up the Beijing Games staked his claim on London's as well, turning the eight-day Olympic swim meet into his valedictory address. Racers from other countries lined up to shake his hand, as if waiting in the receiving line at a wedding, or a coronation.
Team USA won in 3:29.34, ahead of Japan and Australia.
Phelps won four gold medals and two silver in London, taking his all-time tally to 22 medals. He came to London with 16, trailing only Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina's 18 all time. His gold total alone now matches her former record - 18 gold, two silver, two bronze.
"I don't know how you can achieve what he's achieved," says Serena Williams, who won tennis gold for the first time Saturday. "It just doesn't seem possible. Sportsman of the century pretty much sums it up."
When Adrian touched home, Phelps smiled a golden smile. And when Adrian joined Phelps, Matt Grevers and Brendan Hansen on the pool deck, the relay team embraced in a quick group hug. Then they traded high-fives and Phelps raised his arms over his head and held a finger in the air, No. 1 style.
"His relays are just as important to him as his individual events and they always have been, because it is Team USA," says Keenan Robinson, his athletic trainer. "I don't think people have always seen that."
At the victory ceremony, Phelps put one leg up onto the top step of the podium as his teammates and the other medalists waited several moments until it was time to alight the platform. If that was something of a false start, no one seemed to mind.