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Phelps wins gold, shows gold heart
By Paul Newberry ~ The Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece -- Michael Phelps ended his magnificent Olympics with a magnanimous gesture.
He matched Mark Spitz's record of four individual gold medals in the pool, then gave up a coveted spot on the 400-meter medley relay team to Ian Crocker -- whom Phelps had just beaten.
With five gold medals and two bronze overall, Phelps is content to win a historic eighth medal while sitting in the stands Saturday night.
His Olympics are over.
"We came into this meet as a team," Phelps said. "We'll leave here as a team."
In an Olympics that became his personal showcase, the 19-year-old from Baltimore came through with another stirring performance Friday in the 100 butterfly. He rallied to beat the man who held the world record and defeated him at both the world championships and the U.S. trials.
Normally, the winner of the 100 fly gets a spot in the medley relay final. But everyone who participates on a medal-winning relay team -- whether it's the preliminaries or a final -- is rewarded.
Therefore, Phelps still can tie Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin's record of eight medals in one Olympics, set at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games. The United States has never lost a medley relay and will be an overwhelming favorite again -- no matter who swims the fly.
"It's tough to give up the relay. It really is," Phelps said. "But Ian is one of the greatest relay swimmers in the world. He wasn't feeling well during the 400 relay. Hopefully, he'll step up big in the medley relay."
Certainly Phelps had every reason to be tired, racing for the 17th time in seven days. He competed in the medley relay in the morning, while Crocker had been able to rest up for their showdown.
And though he says he's looking forward to breaking training -- "It's McDonald's time" -- no one doubts he had another race left in him.
"I'm speechless," said Crocker, looking to redeem himself after his poor performance last Sunday. "It's a huge gift, but difficult to accept. It makes me want to just go out there and tear up the pool tomorrow."
Another thing: Phelps is sensitive to teammates who have been overshadowed by his amazing accomplishments leading up to these games.
"It's the right thing to do," Phelps said.
His gesture wasn't lost on the International Olympic Committee.
"He's a great champion," said IOC president Jacques Rogge, who watched Phelps' victory from a front-row seat at the Aquatic Center. "Definitely, he is going to be one of the icons of the games."
In Friday's race, Crocker started strong and made the turn under world-record pace, about a half-body length ahead of Phelps, who was lagging in fifth place.
Using his huge wingspan, Phelps began to dig furiously into the water, leaving behind a wake that resembled a washing machine churning a load of clothes. With 20 meters to go, he had pulled up on Crocker's shoulder. At the wall, both men lunged for the gold.
Phelps got it, beating Crocker by a minuscule four-hundredths of a second in an Olympic record of 51.25. Andriy Serdinov of Ukraine took the bronze with a time of 51.36.
Spitz was in the stands to watch Phelps' final race. As the teenager walked around the deck with his latest gold medal, he spotted Spitz holding up four fingers.
"Just to be mentioned in the same sentence with him is unbelievable," Phelps said.
In all, Spitz won a record seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Games. Phelps will fall short of that record, but this performance -- in a swimming world that is much more competitive than it was three decades ago -- could very well be more impressive than the one he was chasing.
The United States picked up another gold medal in the 50 free, with 29-year-old Gary Hall Jr. defending the title he shared with fellow American Anthony Ervin in Sydney four years ago.
It was an especially sweet victory for the irreverent Hall, who was upset about being left off a couple of U.S. relay teams. Swimming as though he had something to prove, he recovered from a slow start to touch in 21.93 -- beating Croatia's Duje Draganja by one-hundredth of a second.
Hall ripped off his cap, threw up his arms in a defiant pose and climbed out of the pool to take a bow. He plans to be back for the 2008 Beijing Games.
"Why not?" he asked, savoring the 10th medal of his career. "Defiance. It's fun."
Roland Schoeman of South Africa, a close friend of Hall's, took the bronze in 22.02. Another American, Jason Lezak, was fifth in 22.11.
Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe won her third medal of the games, capturing gold in the 200 backstroke. She led all the way and finished in 2:09.19. Russia's Stanislava Komarova took silver in 2:09.72, while the bronze went to Reiko Nakamura of Japan in 2:09.88.
Coventry swims at Auburn University, although her family remains in the Zimbabwe capital of Harare. She already had a silver from the 100 back and a bronze from the 200 individual medley.
American Margaret Hoelzer finished fifth.
The United States lost its hold on the women's 800 freestyle when Ai Shibata of Japan won gold in 8:25.54 -- the first major international medal of her career. Laure Manaudou of France claimed silver in 8:24.96, her third medal of these games.
The U.S. team did manage a medal when Diana Munz beat out countrywoman Kalyn Keller for the bronze, overtaking her in the final meters. Munz's time was 8:26.61 -- just 36-hundredths ahead of Keller in the grueling race, the longest on the women's program.
The Americans had won the event in five consecutive Olympics, including back-to-back titles by Janet Evans in 1988 and 1992 and Brooke Bennett in 1996 and 2000. Tiffany Cohen started the streak at the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Munz had no complaints about finishing third. She had expected to swim the 800 at the Sydney Games, only to get squeezed out of a spot at the U.S. trials by just five-hundredths of a second.
"It was a long wait, but I've done it," Munz said. "I trained four years ... so of course I'm excited and happy that I'm third."