Phelps comes to the rescue in his final act
MICHAEL Phelps brought the curtain down on one of sport's most storied careers with a dynamite relay swim to give himself 23 gold medals and declared it a perfect finale.
The American, far and away the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, finished with five golds and a silver in Rio after signing off in dramatic style, coming to the rescue in the 4x100m medley final.
Turning back the clock in his fifth and final Games, Phelps produced a blistering third leg of butterfly to restore his team's lead and tee up victory after Britain's Adam Peaty had threatened to gatecrash his party.
"Getting off the bus and walking to the pool tonight, I pretty much felt myself starting to crack," confessed Phelps.
"Last warm-up, last time putting on a suit, last time walking out in front of people, representing my country - it's insane, a lot better than it was four years ago," added the 31-year-old.
He had retired after the 2012 London Games before returning for one last hurrah.
"This is how I wanted to finish my career. I've lived a dream come true. Being able to cap it off with these Games is just the perfect way to finish."
The hullabaloo over Phelps' farewell overshadowed the achievement of the women's 4x100m medley relayers as they captured their country's 1,000th Olympic medal, according to the United States Olympic committee.
The country's first medal dates back to 1896 when James Connolly won triple jump gold.
Even that statistic seemed to pale against the irrepressible Phelps - and likewise Ryan Murphy's lead-off backstroke leg, which set a new 100m world record of 51.85.
An Olympic record time of 3:27.95 was lost in the emotion after the race as Phelps tearfully saluted the crowd.
His beauty queen fiancee Nicole Johnson looked on sobbing as she cradled baby son Boomer.