LONDON: Even as Michael Phelps added a little more gilding to a glittering Games career, the effect of his exploits was rippling through the waters of the London 2012 competition pool.
A quartet of teenagers: America's Missy Franklin and surprise 800m free winner Katie Ledecky, Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte and China's Ye Shiwen were among the breakout stars poised to carry the sport forward to Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Franklin, with four gold medals and two world records in her first Olympics, and Ledecky, with her dominant upset triumph, helped propel the United States to its familiar spot atop the swimming medals table with 16 gold, 8 silver and 6 bronze for a total of 30.
China confirmed their arrival as an Olympic swimming power with five gold medals and 10 overall, 20-year-old Sun Yang becoming the first Chinese man to win Olympic swimming gold in the 400m free and adding 1,500m gold in a majestic world record swim.
After breaking Grant Hackett's iconic 1,500m free world record for the first time at last year's worlds, Sun was expected to shine.
Ye's tremendous finish in her world record-breaking 400m medley victory, however, prompted whispering in the Western press that provoked the ire of the Chinese team.
"People think China has so many gold medals because of doping and other substances, but I can tell you it is because of hard work," Sun said. "Chinese are not weaker than those in other countries."
Right behind China, France claimed a superb four golds, with Yannick Agnel delivering a scintillating 4x100m free relay gold ahead of the United States before a dominant victory in the 200m freestyle that left US world champion Ryan Lochte trailing in his wake.
France's four golds were one more than they had claimed in all prior Games, and Agnel said he had no intention of letting up before Rio.
Meanwhile Australia, traditionally the biggest challengers to America in the competition pool, floundered after big guns James Magnussen and James Roberts failed to fire.
Australia's 4x100m free relay women won gold on the opening night of the Games, but after sprint kings Magnussen and Roberts delivered sub-par swims that left Australia out of the medals in the men's 4x100m free, the Aussies never seemed to recover.
Instead the women's relay provided their only gold and Magnussen came away from his first Olympics saying he was even more impressed with what Phelps had achieved in four Olympic campaigns that yielded 22 medals - 18 of them gold.
After a stuttering start in London, Phelps finished with four gold medals and two silvers, shattering the record for total medals in a career.
In fact, his 18 golds ended up matching the previous record for total medals amassed by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
"I have a lot more respect for guys like Michael Phelps who can come to the Olympics and back it up under that pressure," Magnussen said.
Chad le Clos, who became the first South African man to win individual Olympic swimming gold, unabashedly admitted his entire career was modeled on that of Phelps.
His reward was to become the first in a decade to vanquish Phelps in a major international 200m butterfly final.
"He was the reason I swam the butterfly. It's not a joke," Le Clos said. "That's why I swim the 200 freestyle, both the IMs. I don't swim it for any other reason than just because Michael does."
Phelps "choked up" when he heard that he was Le Clos's hero and role model, Bowman said.
"It means Michael's done what he wanted to do: affect the sport of swimming," Bowman said.
Although he vowed he'd be watching from the sidelines and would never again return to competition, Phelps said he was fascinated to see what would happen now in the sport, where swimmers are already making inroads on the incredible times of the polyurethane "supersuit" era.
Nine world records in eight events fell in the eight days of the Olympics - Rebecca Soni twice lowering the 200m breaststroke mark.
It was hardly the record rush of Beijing's 25 - or the ridiculous 43 of the 2009 Rome world championships - but it was a start.
"There's so much more that can be done," Phelps said. - AFP