LONDON - As if 22 medal ceremonies over the last three Olympics weren't enough, Michael Phelps was summoned back to the pool deck for one more accolade.
This time he received a trophy from FINA, swimming's governing body, 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 a coronation than a 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.
"Wow. I couldn't ask to finish on a better note," Phelps said.
When it was done, he hugged his teammates - Matt Grevers (who trains in Tucson), Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian - before heading off the deck for the final time. Phelps, 27, waved to the crowd and smiled, clearly at peace with his decision to call it quits.
"I've been able to do everything that I wanted. I can't be any more happy than I am," said Phelps, who retires with twice as many golds as any other Olympian, and his total of 22 medals is the best mark, too.
He could surely swim in another Olympics, 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."
Bouncing back from a disappointing first race in London, a fourth-place finish in the 400 individual medley, he wound up with more medals than any other swimmer at the games: four golds and two silvers.
Grevers, who picked up his second gold, had the Americans in front on the opening backstroke leg, but Kosuke Kitajima put Japan slightly ahead going against Hansen in the breast stroke. Not to worry. Phelps surged through the water in the fly, handing off a lead to Adrian for the freestyle anchor. The Americans won going away in 3 minutes, 29.35 seconds, just off their own Olympic record from Beijing. Japan held on for silver in 3:31.26.
Meanwhile, Missy Franklin capped off a brilliant Olympic debut by helping the U.S. take gold in the women's 400 medley relay - with a world-record time, no less, of 3:52.05.
Franklin, 17, who will begin her senior year of high school when she gets back to Colorado, seems destined to be America's new star in the post-Phelps era after taking four golds, tying former UA Wildcat Amy Van Dyken at the 1996 Atlanta Games for the most by a U.S. female swimmer. Franklin also won a bronze while swimming seven events - the same number as Phelps.
"I don't think his shoes will ever be filled. They're so huge," Franklin said.
The Americans dominated the medal count at the pool, finishing with 16 golds and 30 medals overall.
China's Sun Yang crushed the world record he already held in the 1,500 freestyle, putting his own stamp on the London Games with a stunning time of 14:31.02. Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands won the women's 50 freestyle for a sweep of the sprints.
Local athletes IN London
How they fared Saturday
• Swimming: Matt Grevers won gold in the 4x100 medley relay; ex-Cat Nick Thoman, who swam the prelims, also got gold.
• Basketball: Ex-Cat Andre Iguodala played 3 minutes in the U.S. team's win.
• 11 a.m.: 400 hurdles preliminaries, Georganne Moline, USA
• 12:15 a.m.: 400 hurdles semifinals, Georganne Moline, USA
• 2:45 a.m.: Shot put preliminaries, Julie Labonte, Canada; Jill Camarena-Williams, USA
• 2:15 p.m.: Basketball, Andre Iguodala, USA