LONDON — Seventh at the turn, an Olympic champion at the end.
Make it 17 gold medals for Michael Phelps.
Was there any other way to go out in the final individual race of his career?
With those long arms whirling 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 tonight.
The Americans are huge favorites in a race they have never lost, and 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.
No one has dominated like Phelps, who increased his career overall medal total to 21.
“He’s the king of the Olympics Games,” said his butterfly rival, Serbia's Milorad Cavic.
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: four-hundredths of a second over Ian Crocker in 2004, then 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 slammed the wall in 51.21 seconds for payback against the guy who edged him in the 200 fly, Chad le Clos. No gliding into this finish, the move that cost Phelps a gold in their first meeting.