AP Photo/David J. Phillip
United States' Michael Phelps celebrates after winning his eighth gold medal in the men's 4x100-meter medley relay final during the swimming competitions in the National Aquatics Center at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sunday, Aug. 17, 2008.
Swimming competition at the Olympic pool in Beijing ended Sunday with the fulfillment of an improbable quest. In the very last race, Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal of the games. He and his American medley relay teammates also broke the world record.
Phelps now has two gold medal records: more gold medals (eight) in a single Olympics than any other athlete in any sport, and more gold medals (14) in an Olympics career.
"There is no question from now on, when people think of the greatest swimmer of all time, it's only going to be Michael Phelps' name that comes to their lips," says John Naber, four-time swimming gold medalist.
The Beijing Olympics, adds Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, will be known as the "Michael Phelps Games."
"They have to be," Wallechinsky says. "He won eight gold medals. He deserves to be remembered as the hero of the Beijing Olympics."
Wallechinsky now predicts a new word in the American lexicon: Phelpsian.
"That will be when you win everything and overwhelm the position. That will be a Phelpsian achievement," he says.
The eighth Phelpsian achievement of the Michael Phelps Games came during the butterfly leg of the 400 medley relay. Phelps dove into the water with the American team in third place. He was still in third at the turn, but once he got those arms churning he made it a faster 100 meters than the world record time.
At the wall, Phelps had the lead and freestyler Jason Lezak then sealed the deal in the final 100 meters. The American team broke the world record by a little more than a second, giving Phelps the record gold medal haul.
"This is all a dream come true, you know, to really just imagination anything, and works towards it," Phelps said after the event. "To accomplish everything you've really ever dreamed of. It's fun."
Fun for Phelps is nine days of competition, 17 races, eight finals, seven world records, and three miles of swimming — including practice swims.
Phelps' level of achievement can't be described, says Australian distance swimmer Grant Hackett, also considered one of the world's greatest Olympians.
"It's phenomenal and I think, in my opinion, we'll never ever see it again. I just don't think that can be emulated or beaten," Hackett said.
That's what was said when American swimmer Mark Spitz won seven gold medals with seven world records in the 1972 Olympics in Munich. It took 36 years for his gold medal record to fall.
Here's one more Phelpsian measure: If the 23-year-old from Baltimore was a country, he would have tied for fifth in the medal count Sunday, with as many golds that day as Australia and Japan.
So what does Phelps plan to do now?
"What I'm looking forward to is not doing anything. Just sitting and not moving," he laughs.
There is also a million-dollar check coming. That's what sponsors promised if Phelps hit the eight-medal mark.
And Olympic champion John Naber expects ripples wide and far from Phelps' performance at the Olympic pool.
"I expect that there (are) a lot of kids around the country, if not around the world, who will next week make a pilgrimage to the local swimming pool and ask if there's a signup sheet for the swim team. Because there (are) going be a lot of people who want to be just like Michael Phelps," Naber says.
And if any of them make it to the next Olympics, they better be prepared.
Phelps will be young enough to try it all over again.