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Athens 2004 - Key Moments

Phelps in Spitz' slipstream

He had come to Athens with the bold dream of equalling the incredible record of seven swimming golds won by Mark Spitz at Munich in 1972, and while Michael Phelps narrowly missed out the affable American did however carve his own niche in Olympic history with six gold and two bronze medal performances.

Phelps was just 19, and while he also missed out on a one million dollars bonus offered by a sponsor in the event he pulled off the feat, Phelps would be back for at least one or two more bites of the cherry.

Purists would also mention that one of Phelps' medals was awarded in the 4x100m medley where he competed in the semi-final but not the finals, but the sport's governing bodies of the IOC and FINA stipulate all competitors of a team get the medal.

But aside from the hair splitting, the meaning of what Phelps achieved in the Athens pool will be remembered as one of the Olympic Games' greatest ever exploits.

Sporting attitude

Phelps gladly gave up his place in the medley final explaining he felt Ian Crocker was the better relay man because of a superior start, and for the good of the United States' team Crocker would be the better man to contest the final.

And with four individual titles to his name Phelps joins fellow swimmers Spitz, Hungary's Tamas Darnyi, German Roland Matthes and Russia's Alexander Popov, though only Spitz and Phelps managed that feat at a single Games.

He also becomes only the second athlete to claim eight medals at a single Games after Soviet gymnast Alexander Dityatin in 1980.

"I wanted to achieve something nobody else had ever done in the pool," said Phelps at the time. Mission accomplished then.

And swimming is a much more competitive sport than in Spitz' time, Phelps' 4x100m freestyle relay team only managing bronze while Spitz' took gold.

Phelps also raced 17 times in seven days, while Spitz 'only' raced 13 times.

Finally Phelps dominated the butterfly and medley but had the massive task of facing up to swimming superstars Australia's Ian Thorpe and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband in the 200m freestyle, where he came third in a discipline which was not his speciality.

Comparisons aside, the poolside fans at Beijing 2008 would witness further historic tallies as his backstroke and breaststroke have since been sharpened too.

Copyright 2012 Agence France-Presse.