Michael Phelps wins record 17th gold

Updated: August 4, 2012, 10:37 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

LONDON -- Seventh at the turn, an Olympic champion at the end.

Make it 17 gold medals for Michael Phelps.

What a way to go out in the final individual race of his career.

With those long arms whipping through the water, Phelps was next-to-last when he touched the wall at the far end of the pool in the 100-meter butterfly but in a familiar position when he made the touch that counted Friday -- his name atop the leaderboard, a smile on his face, another gold medal around his neck.

"I'm just happy that the last one was a win," Phelps said. "That's all I really wanted coming into the night."

He claimed his third gold of the London Games and 17th of his career, adding to an already absurd record total that should be twice as much as anyone else by the time he swims the final race of his career, the 4x100 medley relay Saturday night.

He'll be swimming the butterfly leg, part of an imposing quartet that includes three gold medalists (Phelps himself, freestyler Nathan Adrian and backstroker Matt Grevers), plus a guy who won bronze (breaststroker Brendan Hansen).

It's unfathomable to think the Phelps era could end with anything less than a performance that puts him atop the podium one last time, gold medal No. 18 around his neck.

"I don't think Michael is going to let anything go wrong in that race," said Eric Shanteau, who swam the relay for the U.S. in the prelims.

Phelps increased his career overall medal total to 21.

"He's the king of the Olympics Games," said his butterfly rival, Serbia's Milorad Cavic.

Michael Phelps
Al Bello/Getty ImagesMichael Phelps held off Chad le Clos (left) in the 100-meter butterfly to collect his record 17th gold medal.

Even though Phelps didn't go as fast in the final as he did in the semifinals, he actually won by a relatively comfortable margin compared to his two previous Olympic wins in the 100 fly -- by four-hundredths of a second over Ian Crocker in 2004, then by one-hundredth of a second -- the closest race possible -- against Cavic at the Beijing Games four years ago.

That was the victory that kept Phelps on course to win a historic eight gold medals in China.

This was about going out in style.

Phelps touched in 51.21 seconds to beat out the guy who edged him in the 200 fly, Chad le Clos. The South African touched in 51.44, tying for silver with Russia's Evgeny Korotyshkin.

"My start of the meet wasn't what we wanted, but I seemed to pick up some steam at the end of the meet," Phelps said.

He's still in race mode, at least for one more day. Phelps covered the final 50 in 26.86. Le Clos was the only other swimmer to break 27, and three guys couldn't go under 28.

"I thought it would hit me a lot harder than what it is right now," Phelps said. "I guess a lot of those emotions haven't really come through my brain over the last week. Once I'm done and once tomorrow is over, I think there's going to be a lot more emotion that really comes out."

Cavic tied for fourth in 51.81, not even close to Phelps in their final meeting.

"I cannot be compared to Michael Phelps," said Cavic, who also plans to retire after the London Games. "I'm a one-trick pony."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.