The gratitude Phelps' teammates feel toward him, for shining a greater spotlight on a sport that used to get ignored except every four years, has been palpable this week as they face his exit. They talk about how he gives them pep talks before evening meets. When there were questions whether Phelps, coming off his 400-IM loss would even be named to the next day's 4 X 100 free relay, they publicly said if they were the coaches, he of course would be in.
Bowman said that in Beijing, with Phelps having to focus entirely on his ambitious program to win eight gold medals in his eight races, he couldn't be as much of a teammate as he is now.
"And it's not just his teammaes," Bowman said, pointing to Phelps' embrace of even other teams.
After the relay, Phelps sought out Agnel, also 20, not to crow about the victory but to rave about his 200-free gold-medal race.
"I've been able to see a lot of great races and a lot of great performers throughout the sport," Phelps said. "Watching Yannick's 200 free yesterday, I said, 'Your 200 free from yesterday is probably one of the top five swims of all time.' "
Bowman joked earlier that the other four were by Phelps.
"How he swam it," Phelps continued, "he's swimming amazing this meet. It's something cool for me to watch.
"I will say, I'm glad I was not in that race," he said with a laugh. "Those guys would have smoked me."
Phelps will swim in the 200-meter individual medley, the preliminary heats of which will be held Wednesday morning, then the 100-meter butterfly and, finally, the 400-meter medley relay. And then, it will all be over, a an athletic career that achieved superhuman heights.
"I've been a human being," Phelps demurred, "my whole life."
What's left for Phelps?
The remaining schedule for Baltimore's Michael Phelps. All times are local. Viewers whose cable or satellite subscriptions include MSNBC and CNBC can access live streams of every event at NBCOlympics.com through LiveExtra. Taped coverage will be shown on Ch. 11 between 8 p.m. and midnight.
200-meter individual medley, heat, 6:06 a.m.; semifinal, 3:36 p.m.
100-meter butterfly, heat, 6:14 a.m.; semifinal, 3:51 p.m.
200-meter individual medley, if qualify final, 3:16 p.m.
400-meter medley relay, heat, 6:49 a.m.
100-meter butterfly, if qualify final, 2:38 p.m.
400-meter medley relay, if qualify final, 3:27 p.m.