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With golden finish, Michael Phelps passes torch to America's rising stars

Michael Phelps won his last individual race, the 100-meter butterfly, on a night when two of America's rising stars, Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky, also took gold.

Some of the biggest athletic rivalries in the London 2012 Olympic Games.
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We are pretty sure that Michael Phelps was being humble. But for the rest of the world, that really only makes it worse. 

"If I wanted to swim faster, I should have prepared better," he said after swimming the final individual race of his professional life, the 100-meter butterfly. 

Bear in mind, he had just won the race.

It was a glimpse of the mindset that had made Beijing possible – a determination that, in the years before 2008, he would do whatever necessary to swim as fast as humanly possible. And he did.

But Phelps's comment Friday was also confirmation that he, even at some fraction of his best, is still too good for the rest of the world. 

On the first night of these Games, when Phelps swam to a fourth-place finish, we could not know what it meant. Now, Phelps himself has answered all questions, first with this swimming, but now, here at the end, even with his words. 

The long distances – the 400 meters in the individual medley and the 200 meters of the butterfly – got the best of him. In his words, he might have said, "If I really wanted to win those races, I should have prepared better."

But over the shorter distances, the year of intensive training that he has put in since being hung out like a cured ham by Ryan Lochte at the world championships has been enough. And that, in a way, is remarkable.

South African Chad le Clos wants to be Michael Phelps – has put in four years of work and done everything short of developing his own Phelpsian permasmirk in an effort to do just that. That four years won him 0.01 seconds over Phelps in the 200 fly.

But over 100 meters? One year was enough for Phelps. Le Clos came joint second with Russian Evgeny Korotyshkin, 0.23 seconds back. 

And Lochte himself? Flipping tires and ratting chains like Jacob Marley in a Speedo, trying to ward off the ghost of disappointing Olympics past, won him a laugher in the 400 IM. In the 200 IM, he was still ploughing through Phelps's wake.

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