By John Lohn
BEIJING, China, August 17. HE did it. When the United States touched the wall with a world record in the men's 400 medley relay, Michael Phelps officially stood on the top of Mount Olympus. The 23-year-old wrapped up the greatest performance in Olympic history by capturing his eighth gold medal and setting his seventh world record.
Joining Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen and Jason Lezak, Phelps was part of a relay that clocked in at 3:29.34 to better the previous world record of 3:30.68, set by the United States at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. By winning his eighth gold, Phelps moved one ahead of Mark Spitz for the most in a single Games. He raised his career total to 16 medals, 14 of which are gold.
Peirsol got the United States started with a backstroke split of 53.16, which was followed by Hansen's breaststroke leg of 59.27. Phelps followed in 50.15 on the butterfly leg and Lezak finished it off with a split of 46.76. During the medal ceremony, Phelps was the recipient of a standing ovation from the crowd in the Water Cube.
"I'm at a loss for words," Phelps said. "These guys were amazing and made it possible. It shows how much teamwork and togetherness we have. The whole thing, from winning by a hundredth of a second to finishing it off with a world record, it's an amazing experience and something I'll have forever. I literally wanted to do something that no one's ever done before in the sport. Without the help of my teammates, it wouldn't have been possible."
The Australian foursome of Hayden Stoeckel, Brenton Rickard, Andrew Lauterstein and Eamon Sullivan finished second in 3:30.04 while Japan, fueled by Kosuke Kitajima's breast split of 58.07, was the bronze-medal winner in 3:31.18. Kitajima was joined by Junichi Miyashita, Takuro Fujii and Hisayoshi Sato.
Russia placed fourth in 3:31.92 and New Zealand was the fifth-place finisher in 3:33.39. Sixth went to Great Britain (3:33.69) and seventh was South Africa (3:33.70). Italy was disqualified for an early takeoff on the last relay exchange.
"That was a hard race," Hansen said. "It was very emotional and all four of us wanted to get it right. There was added pressure for Michael to get his eighth gold. We had a team meeting without the coaches where we said we wanted to make American proud of us."