ROBERT SMITH, host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith. Liane Hansen is on assignment. The swimming competition at the Olympic pool in Beijing ended 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 more gold medals in a single Olympics than any other athlete ever. From Beijing, NPR's Howard Berkes reports.
HOWARD BERKES: There's no doubt about it now, says four-time swimming gold medalist John Naber.
Mr. JOHN NABER (Former Olympic Swimmer & Gold Medalist): There is no question from now on that when people think about the greatest swimmer of all time, it's only going to be Michael Phelps' name that comes to their lips.
BERKES: And when people think about the Beijing Olympics.
Mr. DAVID WALLECHINSKY (Olympic historian): These are definitely the Michael Phelps Games. They have to be. He won eight gold medals. He deserves to be remembered as the hero of the Beijing Olympics.
BERKES: That's Olympic historian David Wallechinsky, who now predicts a new word in the American lexicon.
Mr. WALLENCHINSKY: Which will be "Phelpsian." That will be when you just win everything and overwhelm the opposition. That will be a Phelpsian achievement.
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
BERKES: 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 flip turn, but once he got those arms turning, he swam the fastest 100 meters ever. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a butterfly event, racers do an open turn, not a flip turn.]
(Soundbite of crowd cheering)
BERKES: At the wall, Phelps had the lead, and freestyler Jason Lezak then sealed the deal. The Americans broke the world record by a little more than a second, and Phelps had more gold medals than any other Olympian ever.
Mr. MICHAEL PHELPS (Swimmer, U.S. Olympic Team): This is all a dream come true. You know, to really just imagine anything and work towards it, and have ups, have downs, and be able to accomplish everything you've really ever dreamed of. It's fun.
BERKES: Here's what fun was like for Michael Phelps. Nine days of competitions, 17 races, eight finals, seven world records, three miles of swimming. Australian distance swimmer Grant Hackett is also considered one of the world's great Olympians.
Mr. GRANT HACKETT (Swimmer, Australian Olympic Team): It cannot be described, the level of achievement that he has done here. 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.
BERKES: That's what was said when American Mark Spitz won seven gold medals with seven world records in swimming. It took 36 years for his record to fall. Here's one more Phelpsian measure. If the 23-year-old from Baltimore were a country, he'd be tied for fifth in the medal count, with as many golds as Australia and Japan. So what does Michael Phelps plan to do now?
Mr. PHELPS: Like what I'm looking forward to, just not doing anything, just sitting and not moving.
BERKES: There is also a million-dollar check coming. That's what sponsors promised if Phelps hit the eight-medal mark. Olympic champion John Naber expects ripples wide and far from Phelps' performance at the Olympic pool.
Mr. NABER: I expect that there's a lot of kids around the country, if not around the world, who next week will make a pilgrimage to the local swimming pool and ask if there's a sign-up sheet for the swim team. Because there's going to be a lot of people who want to be just like Michael Phelps.
BERKES: And if any of them make it to the next Olympics, they'd better be prepared. Michael Phelps will be young enough to try it all over again. Howard Berkes, NPR News, Beijing.