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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 August, 2004, 22:35 GMT 23:35 UK
Phelps causes biggest splash
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

Michael Phelps insists his main aim in life is to raise the profile of swimming in the United States.

Michael Phelps in action
400m individual medley: Gold
4x100 freestyle relay: Bronze
200m freestyle: Bronze
200m butterfly: Gold
4x200m free relay: Gold
200m individual medley: Gold
100m butterfly: Gold
4x100m medley relay: Gold

And at the end of the Athens swimming meet, no-one can accuse him of under-achieving on that score.

Never mind America, after winning eight medals it would come as no surprise to learn that aliens from outer space knew all about the exploits of this 19-year-old superstar.

He may not have wiped Mark Spitz's name from the record books, but his feats are arguably even more awesome than his legendary fellow American's.

For a start, the competition in the pool in 2004 is much tougher than it was 32 years ago in Munich, when Spitz set the world alight by claiming a remarkable seven golds.

Not only that, but Phelps was also forced to make his assault on Olympic history under the ceaseless glare of the world's media.

His target of eight golds was arguably a millstone around his neck. If it was, he made light of it, publicly at least.

From the word go he said he would be happy to leave these shores with just one gold.

And that philosophy never changed, even when the medals began raining in.

We had one of the best teams in history and to be part of it is unbelievable
Michael Phelps

"I came here wanting one gold," he said. "Now I've done something no-one in the sport of swimming has done before."

Not even Ian Thorpe, who always felt that Phelps was taking on mission impossible.

The Australian was not out to chastise or wind up his rival.

Thorpe's fear was that anything less than eight golds would be regarded as a failure.

In the end, Phelps walked off with six golds and two bronzes, hardly a failure.

He could even afford to sit out the final of the 4x100m medley relay on the last day of competition in the pool, offering Ian Crocker the chance to take home a gold by swimming the butterfly leg.

Michael Phelps poses with one of his six gold medals
A very familar sight in the Athens pool

Sure, Phelps had swum in the heats, which meant if the US medalled so would he.

But it was still a magnanimous gesture, one that Crocker truly appreciated.

"He gave me a great opportunity and I wanted to take full advantage of it," said the 100m butterfly world record-holder.

By claiming eight medals in total, Phelps entered the record books.

He is now the joint most decorated Olympian at a single Games - equalling the accomplishment of Russian gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin, who won three golds, four silvers and one bronze at Moscow Games of 1980.

As for the US team in general, they once again dominated in the pool, winning 28 medals, 12 of which were gold.

That was 13 more than nearest rivals Australia, who won seven golds.

Perhaps now swimming will gain the headlines and column inches in his homeland which Phelps insists the sport merits.

"We've medalled in every event but one and we had a good time doing it," he said of the multi-talented men's squad.

"We had one of the best teams in history and to be part of it is unbelievable."

For the record, the one discipline the Americans failed to record a podium finish in was the 100m freestyle.

But that was no disgrace.

Dutch star Pieter van den Hoogenband took gold, ahead of South Africa's Roland Schoeman and Thorpe.

It proved to be a single moment of failure for a remarkable American team.

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