"I think he's going to be a legend forever," Ravens fan Ann Williams said.
Phelps won some races by ridiculously large margins, others with the closest of finishes - most memorably, his seventh gold by one-hundredth of a second over Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100 fly. Along the way, he became the winningest Olympian ever and left China with 14 career golds - five more than anyone else with at least one more Olympics to go.
"It's been nothing but an upwards roller-coaster and it's been nothing but fun," Phelps said.
Ditto for Dara Torres, who capped her improbable comeback with two more silver medals, missing gold by one hundredth of a second in the 50 freestyle.
The 41-year-old Torres, a five-time Olympian and the oldest American swimmer ever, also anchored the American women to a runner-up finish in the 400 medley relay. She got silver in all three of her races in Beijing, giving her 12 medals in a remarkable career that began at the 1984 Los Angeles Games - a year before Phelps was even born.
Surely this is the end.
Then again, never count Torres out - she'll only be 45 for the London Games.
"I go home extremely thrilled," said Torres, who also made sure to mention her ailing coach.
Michael Lohberg is battling a rare, potentially fatal blood disease and couldn't travel to Beijing.
"I wouldn't be here without Michael," Torres said.
Germany's Britta Steffen nipped Torres at the wall to complete a sweep of the women's sprint events in Beijing. The middle-aged American smiled, her head dropping back, when she saw a time of 24.07 - just behind Steffen's winning effort of 24.06. The German added to her gold in the 100 free.
Torres received her silver, then hustled back to the locker room to grab her cap and a pair of old-fashioned goggles that were probably older than some of her teammates. She was trailing as she took the anchor leg and couldn't catch Libby Trickett on a frantic sprint to the wall, with China claiming the bronze.
Still, not bad considering she had retired a second time after the 2000 Sydney Games, then got the urge to compete again after having her first child two years ago. Not content swimming in the old-timers' division, she set out to prove that age is only a number.
Consider that point made.
Torres got off to a good start in the 50 and appeared to be leading midway through the race, a frenetic sprint from one end of the pool to the other.
As they came to the wall, Torres and Steffen were stroke for stroke. The German reached out with her left hand and Torres stretched with her right. Steffen's fingertip got there first.
Completing a race for all ages, 16-year-old Australian Cate Campbell earned the bronze in 24.17.
Australia's relay women - Emily Seebohm, Leisel Jones, Jess Schipper and Libby Trickett - took the gold with a world record of 3:52.69. The Americans claimed silver with the second-fastest time in history, 3:53.30, while China took the bronze.
Torres was joined on the U.S. team by Natalie Coughlin, Rebecca Soni and Christine Magnuson. Coughlin received her sixth medal of the games, giving her 11 in her career.
Hackett failed to become the first man to win the same event at three straight Olympics.
The Aussie was upset in swimming's version of the mile by Ous Mellouli, who won Tunisia's first Olympic gold at the pool in 14:40.84.
"It's like 90 yards of a touchdown. It was so close, but I didn't have much of a response," Hackett said. "It's disappointing I didn't win. I have no regrets, it certainly was a close race."
Mellouli held off Hackett in the closing meters of the grueling race, swimming's version of the mile. Hackett earned the silver in 14:41.53, well off his 7-year-old world record of 14:34.56.
"He's never hung on like that in the past," Hackett said of the winner. "He was the better competitor."
Mellouli, who trains in Southern California, was coming off a suspension after testing positive for amphetamines.
Ryan Cochrane of Canada took the bronze in 14:42.69.
After receiving his eighth gold, Phelps received another award from FINA, the sport's governing body, as the best swimmer of the meet.
Make it the best ever.
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