LONDON -- As if 22 medal ceremonies over the past three Olympics weren't enough, Michael Phelps was summoned back to the pool deck for one more accolade.
This time, he received a trophy rather than a medal, an award that sought to sum up a career like no other.
"To Michael Phelps," it said, "the greatest Olympic athlete of all time."
Too bad it was silver.
Gold was the only color for this guy.
In a final race that was more coronation than contest, Phelps headed into retirement the only way imaginable -- with an 18th gold medal. Reclaiming the lead with his trademark butterfly stroke, the one seen in his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old in Sydney a dozen years ago, he capped off a mind-boggling career with a victory in the 4x100-meter medley relay Saturday.
"I've been able to do everything that I wanted," Phelps said.
When it was done, he hugged his teammates -- Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian -- before heading off the deck for the final time in his hip-hugging swimsuit. He waved to the crowd and smiled, clearly at peace with his decision to call it a career.
And what a career it was.
Phelps retired with twice as many golds as any other Olympian, and his total of 22 medals is easily the best mark, too.
The 27-year-old could surely swim on for another Olympics, maybe two, but there's really no point.
"I told myself I never want to swim when I'm 30," Phelps said.
"No offense to those people who are 30, but that was something I always said to myself, and that would be in three years. I just don't want to swim for those three years."
He hugged his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, who was teary-eyed as he whispered three words that said it all, "I love you." Their partnership was formed 16 years ago, when Bowman took a gangly, hyperactive kid with an extraordinary gift and helped to turn him into a swimmer the likes of which the world never had seen.
Phelps was not the only star of the night.
Missy Franklin, 17, capped off a brilliant Olympic debut by helping the U.S. and teammates Allison Schmitt, Dana Vollmer and Rebecca Soni take gold in the women's 400 medley relay -- with a world-record time, no less.
The Americans dominated the medal count at the pool, finishing with 16 golds and 30 medals overall.
China's Sun Yang sprinted to the finish of the sport's most grueling race to crush the world record he already held in the 1,500 freestyle, putting his own stamp on the games with a stunning time of 14:31.02.
Sun captured his second gold of the meet, adding to a gold in the 400 free.
He also tied for the silver in the 200 free, and was part of the bronze medal-winning team in the 4x200 free relay.
Canada's Ryan Cochrane took second in 14:39.63, while defending Olympic champion Ous Mellouli of Tunisia settled for bronze in 14:40.31.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands won the women's 50 freestyle to complete a sweep of the sprints.
Having already won the 100 free, Kromowidjojo clocked an Olympic-record 24.05 in the furious, one-lap dash.
Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus touched in 24.28 to take the silver and another Dutchwoman, Marleen Veldhuis, took bronze. Britta Steffen of Germany, who swept the sprints in Beijing, finished fourth.
First Published August 5, 2012 4:00 AM