Fan Pick: Michael Phelps Becomes Greatest Olympian of All Time

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With one final splash, Michael Phelps headed into retirement his way – with a record 18th Olympic gold medal. In a career spanning four Olympic Games, Phelps earned 22 Olympic medals overall becoming the most decorated Olympian ever, and perhaps the greatest of all time. His 18 golds are twice as many as anyone else in Olympic history. And his 22 overall medals won are four more than Larisa Latynina, a Soviet-era gymnast, and seven more than the next athlete on the list. If Phelps was a nation, he’d be 58th in the overall medal standings, just one behind India.

Phelps capped off an impressive career at the London Games with a win in the 4x100m medley relay on August 4, 2012 by reclaiming the lead with his trademark butterfly stroke to help Team USA win their 13th straight Olympic title in the event with a time of 3:29.35. When the victory was secured, he hugged his teammates, Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen and Nathan Adrian, before heading off the deck for the last time.

Before completing his historic run in London, Phelps got off to a rocky start finishing fourth in the 400m IM after being out swum by his friend and teammate, Ryan Lochte. It was only the second time in his career that Phelps had not finished in the top three of an Olympic race, the first back in 2000 at his first Olympics when he was fifth in his only event of the Sydney Games as a 15-year-old. He, of course, went on to win gold in the 100m butterfly, 200m IM, 4×200 relay and his last race, the 4x100m medley relay. He also earned silver medals in the 200m butterfly and 4x100m freestyle relay.

Before London were the 2008 Beijing Games where Phelps made history by winning eight gold medals, more than any other athlete at an Olympic Games. During the nine day competition, he set seven world records, eight American records and eight Olympic records. In 2004 at the Athens Games, Phelps won six gold medals.

Phelps has been on four Olympic teams, and holds the record for men for the most Olympic appearances in swimming representing the United States.

Now in retirement at the age of 27 Phelps has a likely career as a promotional pitchman, but he is dedicated to spending more time with his foundation and funding programs to grow his favorite sport. The Michael Phelps Foundation was established in 2008 with a $1 million bonus Phelps received from Speedo for winning eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics. The non-profit organization focuses on growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthier lifestyles, especially for children.

Phelps dominated his sport for nearly a decade ruling over it with speed, consistency and record-breaking performances. And although his competitive swimming career may be over, Phelps’ indelible mark in the history books as the most decorated Olympian of all time is clearly what made him your favorite sports moment of 2012.