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NEWS FEATURE Cheers for Phelps increases as final curtain call looms By Derek Wilson, dpa

Europe
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Michael Phelps added another gold medal to his collection on Thursday in Rio de Janeiro, but the curtain is beginning to draw on the career of the most-decorated Olympian of all-time.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Michael Phelps will soon face his final curtain as a professional swimmer, but the 31-year-old is heading into likely retirement by continuing to rewrite the history books.

Fresh from winning Olympic gold medals 20 and 21 earlier in the week, Phelps made it 22 by becoming the first swimmer to win four gold medals at the same individual event in consecutive Games by retaining his 200-metre individual medley crown on Thursday in Rio.

The achievement is hardly common in the Olympics. Only discus thrower Al Oerter and long jumper Carl Lewis have ever achieved it.

"I think the biggest thing for me through the meet so far is I‘ve been able to finish how I want to. I‘ve been able to come back and do things I‘ve just dreamed of," he said.

"This has been a very special week so far for me, closing out my career," he added.

The race was dramatic but Phelps always had an element of control in winning in 1 minutes 54.66 seconds over Japan‘s Kosuke Hagino and China‘s Wang Shun, even if he only moved clear in the second half.

His previous victories in the event have been by margins of 1.64, 2.29 and 0.63 seconds, margins that range from comfortable to huge in the world of swimming. This success came at an emphatic 1.95 seconds from Hagino.

There is a sense that Phelps, the most-decorated Olympian in history, is orchestrating his departure on his own terms through sheer will and determination. Sports stars often rage against the dying of the light too long and exit the stage chastened at their previous invincibility being punctured.

But Phelps does not seem set to suffer that fate, instead hauling himself to the wall just a few tenths of a second quicker than younger rivals, just as he has done for the last 16 years.

"He is the best athlete at the Olympics," team-mate Ryan Lochte said after being beaten in the 200m medley.

Phelps has already retired once, after the 2012 Games in London, and struggled to adapt to normal life especially in the light of an agonizing 200m butterfly loss.

But his comeback was not entirely easy either.

"I knew when I first started coming back, I knew it wasn‘t going to be an easy process. I‘d have to go through pain."

"There were multiple times when I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing, I‘m swimming so slow.‘"

"I just had to trust (coach) Bob Bowman. I trusted him when I was 11 years old and he hasn‘t let me down once," Phelps said.

Before the Rio Games, Phelps talked of this "potentially" being his last Olympics and his language this week has suggested more and more that he will indeed retire. But he hasn‘t said it explicitly.

"It started hitting me this morning," Phelps said. "I only have to put my racing suit on two more times after tonight. I only have to warm down one more time after night."

"It‘s wild to think over 20 years ago I learned to swim and competition-wise it‘s all stopping in 48 hours," he said.

Sports fans all over the world are likely to be grateful for the restlessness that forced Phelps into his 2016 appearance. Unless he changes his mind, his last races will be the 100m butterfly final Friday and the 4x100m medley.

And on recent performances, leaving the pool with anything less than two more gold medals would be a major surprise.

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