Michael Phelps: Human side makes him greater - Ian Thorpe

By Ian ThorpeFive-time Olympic gold medallist & BBC analyst

London 2012 is the Games where Michael Phelps made official what we all knew - he is the greatest Olympian.

But the Phelps we saw here had a different feel to his swimming. I've liked Michael here, I've liked watching him.

I saw him as a young swimmer being successful in 2004, then I remember a Phelps who was quite robotic in his performances at Beijing 2008, which is what he needed that year to get through his events and win eight Olympic titles.

In London, we have seen a Michael who is relaxed and knows to enjoy the occasion. The public has seen a different side to him, a vulnerability in no longer being able to accomplish these astonishing achievements.

People were stunned when he came fourth in his opening final. They can see he is human now and that makes him all the greater. He deserved his gold-medal finale on Saturday.

The Phelps versus Lochte storyline did not emerge the way it was billed, but that was a simple narrative - an easy way to look at the Olympic swimming contest. It didn't take into consideration any other athletes, individuals who had an opportunity and who have now walked away with medals.

I doubt we will ever see the likes of Phelps again, considering how strong swimming has become on a global stage. Medals have come from nations throughout the world, especially Asia. The sport has changed quite significantly as Michael hangs up his togs.

China played a large part in proceedings - Sun Yang won two golds and a silver in men's freestyle events - while 16-year-old Ye Shiwen won double gold in the women's medleys and Jiao Liuyang won the women's 200m butterfly.

China finished second in swimming's medal table and that has been coming for a while. The Chinese swimming programme has been improving and that's partly to do with their push before the Beijing Games - they're seeing the benefit now.

I think they will continue to be a force on the world stage. Becoming the biggest force may be their goal but that's going to take a bit more time - I don't think it will be the next Games. The following? Maybe. We'll see how sustainable their programme is and whether or not it's a programme that has young swimmers beating at the heels of the champions who have come through.

Look at the US programme: it has a consistency no other programme has and the Chinese need to get to that point.

But their emergence does mean that a US-Australia rivalry has now become a China-US rivalry and I don't see how that's detrimental. Australia may win fewer medals and they have to accept that - the medals being evenly distributed around the world, rather than us stealing them all. It's good for the sport and its future.

As far as discussion about Ye Shiwen goes, there has to be honesty between sporting federations, athletes and the media when we come to issues like doping in sport.

Look at Ye's performance. At 15 she is an age-group swimmer and they drop chunks of time just as she did. You have one time in your life when that happens - you can't do that later on. Her performances are completely possible.

More broadly, when we talk about nationalities and individuals like this, it's not helpful. If a British athlete dropped the same amount of time, we'd say "wow".

Until a swimmer tests positive, talking about specific people is not beneficial. When someone does test positive, then we should celebrate - we've caught one. But never go in with the simple brushstroke that they all must be taking drugs.

Success for China has come partly at the expense of the United States, but Australia has suffered, winning one relay gold and no individual titles.

The Australian programme is probably the best in the world, we just haven't swam very well. It's as simple as that. In some ways our athletes have been unlucky, but this has been a disappointing Games for our swim team.

They are better than the results reflect. We thought we would have quite a few gold medals but we have ended up not winning an individual event for the first time since 1976. A lot of questions will be asked and a lot will go unanswered.

There is some consolation for the British there, knowing that Australia has been a dominant country in swimming and neither nation has an individual title. The rest of the world has swam incredibly well - the Americans have been dominant here in a way I've not seen for a very long time. In the women's 4x100m medley relay, they made mistakes and they still won gold in a world record.

London 2012 has given us better races, in better times. I believe the British team has made the right steps to have better results in the future but, in terms of who won the medals, this has been a stunning Olympics. We have seen the sport evolve.

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