Michael Phelps (USA) was particularly driven to set that sensational world record of 4:03.84 in the 400m medley this morning: he hopes that he will never race another 8-lap medley again.
After a time that took him inside the pace at which Hans Fassnacht (FRG) raced to the world 400m free record in 1969, Superfish, 23, said: "My coach Bob Bowman and I, we had a deal. I told him I wanted this to be my last 400 medley and he said 'Well, it has to end on a record'. I saw him after the race and he said we'd have to talk about it. But I would like to not swim the medley any more, it's one of the hardest races, and I'd like to try some new ones and have a different approach. In my opinion, that was the last medley for me."
Cheered on by President George Bush, Phelps raced inside his own world record pace throughout the eight lengths, turning in second place only once: his teammate Ryan Lochte, world record holder on backstroke and one of those tipped as capable of stopping Superfish in his flow, sprinted into contention after the butterfly. Phelps craves a challenge, and given one, he has never failed to rise to the occasion. having split 31.27sec on the first length of backstroke, the reigning Olympic and world champion put in a 30.20sec blast on the way to the half-way mark. Lochte tried to respond but hi confidence was cracked and, with Phelps piling on the pressure on breaststroke, the American challenger had no response when Laszlo Cseh, the European champion from Hungary, drew level and then moved ahead before the turn into freestyle.
World champion and record holder on freestyle, Phelps had the gold in his grasp going into the last 100m. In the fastest home-coming split ever seen, 56.79sec, Phelps set his eighth world record in the 400m medley since 2002, in 4:03.84, compared with the 4:05.25 at which he had held the mark since US Olympic trials at the end of June. Laszlo Cseh (HUN) shattered the European record to take silver in 4:06.16, with Ryan Lochte (USA) claiming bronze in 4:08.09.
When Phelps started his record-breaking spree, the standard had stood to 2000 Olympic champion Tom Dolan, of the US, in 4:11.76. After his latest progress, Phelps said: "I'm pretty happy. That was a pretty emotional race. I knew it was going to be a tough race all the way through. Looking and seeing all three of us together pretty much at the 200, I wasn't really comfortable with having that close of a race. I usually have more of a gap, but it made my breaststroke a lot stronger. The freestyle is just downhill. The freestyle is all adrenaline."
Phelps touched the wall and spun around so quickly to see his time that he bumped his head on the wall. He pumped both arms in the air, and quickly spotted his mother and two sisters in the massive stands at the Water Cube. He then looked the other way, where Bush was waving his American flag, accompanied by the first lady, their daughter Barbara and his father, former President George H.W. Bush.
"I looked up and he waved the flag and nodded his head," Phelps said. "That was a pretty cool feeling to have the president say congratulations and have him in the crowd."
On the medal stand, Phelps could barely hold back the tears as the Star Spangled Banner rang out. Laughter rang out too, when the anthem was suddenly cut short with a scratchy sound that resembled a needle running across an old LP disc. Phelps has much more to come over the next week: 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m medley and three relays.
Lochte, who believed that Phelps was beatable, said: "I did everything I could, so that's all I can ask for. But he was amazing. Setting another world record, you can't ask for anything else. That was a great way to start off the meet for USA."