By DAVID BAUDER, Associated Press
Rowdy Gaines had a simple message after calling Michael Phelps' 18th and last gold medal-winning race Saturday. "All I can say is thank you," the NBC swimming analyst said.
The curtain officially closed on the Phelps era with his final medley relay race and 22nd Olympic medal. The swimmer said he's retiring after London and has looked like it, appearing relaxed and reflective in interviews. Gaines and partner Dan Hicks have covered Phelps in four of the five Olympics where they have been partners for NBC.
"I thank God every day that we had him in our sport and nobody else had him in theirs," Gaines said in an interview.
NBC will miss him, too. The network announced that it would air a retrospective on Phelps' career Sunday at 7 p.m. EDT and PDT, featuring Bob Costas' lengthy interview with the swimmer. "Michael Phelps: America's Golden Champion" will last an hour.
Hicks understood the historical perspective in calling the race Saturday. "Sooner or later you have to say goodbye to the sports greats," he said.
Gaines, himself a three-time gold medal-winning swimmer, said Phelps has clearly done more for swimming than anyone else in its history.
They've had a friendly relationship, although Phelps appears to have used some of Gaines' words as motivation. While calling a race in 2003, Gaines suggested that Phelps had started off too quickly and wouldn't be able to maintain his pace. Phelps won, setting a world record for time in the process.
After many of his subsequent wins, as recently as last year, Phelps would needle Gaines: "Did I fade in that race, Rowdy?"
When Phelps lost his first final of the London Olympics to Ryan Lochte, Gaines was blunt in his assessment that Phelps had not properly trained for the event. Gaines didn't consider that criticism because Phelps himself had admitted the same thing.
Gaines questions whether Phelps will, or should, retire from swimming after London.
"He doesn't have to have a job," he said. "It's not like he has to go to work as a banker to make money. He can live off being Michael Phelps."
He'd advise Phelps to take a couple of years off and then see how he feels. Phelps would still be young enough to be competitive in the 2016 Games, and there would be no pressure, he said. "Maybe it's just wishful thinking," he said.
There's already speculation that Phelps, poised and comfortable on camera, could head into broadcasting.
Could he wind up taking Gaines' job some day?
"I'm long past due that they put me out to pasture," said Gaines, who has worked for NBC since 1992. "I wouldn't be surprised at all. He'd be really good at it. I'd welcome him. I'd rather have him in a pool, but I'd welcome him."
RATINGS: NBC's Friday night telecast was seen by 28.5 million viewers, Nielsen said. That's the smallest audience so far from London, but Friday is generally a slow night for TV viewing. No televised Olympics ever has seen audiences of 28.5 million or higher for its first eight nights.
THEIR JESS: Good of NBC to carry the final event of the heptathlon, which gave Britain's Jessica Ennis a golden moment in front of the hometown crowd. It felt like an afterthought, though. We understand the need of an American network to give primary attention to American athletes, but this event deserved more attention even though there wasn't a strong American contender. It will be considered one of the main events of the London Olympics. NBC should have dispensed with some heats of other events to cover the heptathlon more thoroughly.
QUOTE: "This is one rushed Russian." — tennis announcer Mary Carillo on Maria Sharapova, who couldn't seem to get off the court fast enough in Serena Williams' 6-0, 6-1 victory in the final Saturday.
AGE AND SPEED: Good observation by NBC's track analyst Ato Boldon about how some age and experience can trump youthful energy after Sanya Richards-Ross semifinal heat in the women's 400 meters. Age can also bring suspicion, as sprinter Carmelita Jeter has found with her improvement as she passed the age of 30. Boldon noted that Jeter is paying the price for past juicing scandals that enveloped American track athletes.