By John Lohn
MELBOURNE, Australia, April 1. ALL week, Michael Phelps has been extraordinary, packaging one of the finest performances the sport has seen. Tonight, he walked away from his last race in appropriate fashion: With a world record. Pulling away from American teammate Ryan Lochte in the breaststroke leg, Phelps powered through the freestyle leg and blew away his former global standard.
Phelps touched the wall in an eye-popping 4:06.22, more than two seconds under the 4:08.26 he used to win gold at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Phelps actually trailed Lochte by .03 after the backstroke, but opened up a one-plus second lead in the breaststroke and continued to pour it on down the stretch. The win complemented his earlier individual triumphs in the 200 freestyle, 100 and 200 butterfly events and the 200 I.M. He's broken five world records. He was also a member of the triumphant 400 and 800 free relays.
"I wanted to have a strong breaststroke," Phelps said. "That's probably my most improved leg in the last six months to a year. (Underwater power) is definitely something that is a strength and I wanted to nail that last wall and give it all I got. It was my last race, so I wanted to finish strong."
Phelps was supposed to have a chance at eight gold medals, but a disqualification by the United States in the morning preliminaries of the 400 medley denied that opportunity. The DQ prevented Phelps from becoming the first man to win eight medals in a World Champs and the first to win eight gold medals in a major international competition. But, Phelps showed a ton of team pride in his support of Ian Crocker, the man whose early takeoff led to the disqualification.
"When Team USA comes into a meet, we come as a team and we exit as a team," he said. "There are things that don't always happen the way you want, but better now than next year (at the Olympics). We're disappointed, but we'll build off it."
Lochte earned the silver medal, his third of the competition, by touching in a career-best mark of 4:09.74, quick enough to defeat Italy's Luca Marin, the bronze medalist in 4:09.88. Tunisia's Ous Mellouli, the bronze medalist at the last two World Champs, was fourth in 4:11.68 and defending champ Laszlo Cseh (Hungary) was fifth in 4:14.76.