Olympic athletes as talented as Michael Phelps are a rare breed. Even before Phelps competes for the final time in London this summer, he has already cemented a legacy as the greatest swimmer and greatest Olympic athlete of any generation. It is difficult to imagine any single athlete will come along in near future to break his swimming records and eclipse his tally of gold medals.
Phelps is certain to add more iconic moments, amazing feats, and seemingly unattainable records during the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Until that time, these 10 moments stand out as his greatest in his Olympic career:
1. Victory Over Cavic By .01 Second
Against Milorad Cavic, Phelps showed a flair for the dramatic and staged the most exciting comeback in the entire 2008 Beijing Olympics. Phelps trailed Cavic during the majority of the 100m fly. He dug deep on the final lap and pushed past Cavic on the final stroke. He touched the wall just .01 second ahead of Cavic in a controversial finish to win his seventh of eight gold medals in Beijing. His winning time of 50.58 seconds also set an Olympic record.
2. Eight is Enough ... For Now
No other individual athlete had ever won eight Olympic gold medals until Phelps came along and reshaped everyone's perceptions of what could be done. He won eight gold medals in 2008, breaking the record set by Mark Spitz when he won seven gold medals in the 1972 Summer Olympics. Along the way, Phelps set world records in seven events and an Olympic record in the eighth event.
3. Six Pack
Phelps arrived on the scene in a big way at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. He won six gold medals and two bronze medals in his eight events. At the time, it ranked as the second best individual performance by an Olympic athlete behind Spitz in 1972. Phelps set three Olympic records and two world records in five of the events he won.
4. A Leg Up
In the event that clinched his individual medals record at Beijing, the 4×100m medley relay, Phelps recorded an incredible split time of 50.1 seconds on the third leg. It helped give his team a half second lead; it won the race in a world record time of 3:29.34.
5. Leaky Goggles Prove No Match
Nothing could slow Phelps down in his march to glory at Beijing. That included a pair of leaky swim goggles. Phelps started experiencing problems in the midst of his 200m butterfly race when his goggles started filling with water. Phelps could not see anything for the last 100 meters. Not only did he still win the race, but he set a new world record with a time of 1:52.03.
6. Six Pack - Part II
Six was a lucky number for Phelps in Athens during the 2004 Olympics. He won six gold medals. He also became the first American swimmer to make it through the preliminary heats and qualify for the finals in six individual events.
7. 400 Meter Man
Phelps' first medal race in Athens set the tone for what was to come that summer and again four years later. In the 400m individual medley, Phelps claimed his first career gold medal when he won the race with a world record time of 4:08.26.
8. Fly Master
One race that stood out as evidence that Phelps had arrived as a dominant swimmer was the 100 m butterfly during the 2004 Olympics. Phelps went head-to-head with U.S. teammate Ian Crocker, the world record holder, in the final. He edged out Crocker by .04 seconds to win in 51.25 seconds. It marked a new Olympic record at the time -- one Phelps would break himself four years later.
9. Yielding A Spot
One of Phelps' gold medal triumphs in Athens came in a race where he did not participate in the final. Phelps automatically qualified for a slot on the 4 x 100-meter medley relay team. He gave it up to Ian Crocker because that race represented Crocker's last chance to earn a gold medal. Crocker swam in his place and the medley team won gold. Phelps was awarded a gold medal because he had swam with the team in the preliminary races.
10. Record Setter
In his past two Olympics, Phelps has carved out a reputation for rewriting the record books. He set five Olympic or world records in 2004 and set eight Olympic or World records in 2008. The 14 gold medals he claimed from Athens and Beijing also represent a record for most individual gold medals by any previous Olympic athlete.
John Coon has covered swimming and other Olympic sports as a sports reporter. He is also a swim fan who enjoyed cheering on his niece in the state swim meet during her high school career.