After his three-peat in the Olympic men’s 200m medley, American swimmer Michael Phelps said on Thursday that he was slowly realising that his career was drawing to an end.

Phelps, who on Tuesday became the most decorated Olympian ever with 19 medals (15 gold, two silver and two bronze), added the 200m medley gold on Thursday to bring his tally to 20 medals.

His victory in the medley made him the first male to achieve a three-peat: Winning the same individual event three times in a row.

Phelps always said that the London Olympics would be his last.

“But I think it is just starting to sink in now,” he said. “I have been saying that this was my last prelim swim, my last semifinal and today it was my last race against Ryan Lochte.”

“It was a relief to win an individual gold and it is something cool and special to three-peat. I fell short in the first couple of events, but it is something that no male has achieved before me, so it is a pretty cool feeling to have achieved that.”

“But it was also very hard,” he added. “It is cool to add it to my CV but it hurt to achieve it.” Phelps said that after swimming in the medley relay on Saturday he would retire from the sport. “Not only the Olympics, all competitive swimming. That means there will be no masters swimming, no nothing.”

The 27-year-old said that he had not yet really thought about life after swimming.

“It has not gone through my head that much. Going into the last relay on Saturday, it will probably kick into my head more and more,” he said.

“Once it is all over it will hit me emotionally. It will also be very emotional for my mom. I am the last Phelps to come through. She has watched my sister go through swimming and retiring and now me.”

Phelps appeared quite emotional on the podium as he collected his gold medal to cheers from the capacity crowd in the Aquatic Centre.

After receiving his medal, Phelps tossed his complimentary flowers into the stands as he and Lochte slowly walked around the stadium.

“When I was on the podium I tried to compose myself as much as I could,” Phelps said. “I let myself shed a tear here and there and then I just tried to stay focussed. But I was hurting real bad and had to lean against something as I was scared of falling over.”

Although Phelps showed at the end of the race how badly he had wanted to win, he said that he had not prepared any differently than he does for all races. “I ate the same lunch, had a nap and a snack.

It really was no different.” “I might have been lucky that Ryan (Lochte) had just swum the final of the 200m backstroke (where he came third). I know Ryan can swim faster than I swam tonight,” Phelps said.

“You will see him swim faster times and I was just lucky to get the medal tonight.”

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