Michael Phelps was headed to Athens yesterday with three gold medals around his neck and widespread appreciation as the world's best swimmer.
After a stellar performance at the World Swimming Championships, the 18-year-old American was going to the site of next year's Olympics to check out the pool -- still under construction -- where he will ply his craft.
The biggest question for Phelps may be which of his various crafts to practice.
"This experience showed me that I'm able to do six or seven events," Phelps said. "We're going to have to decide which ones they are and if they work out on the events schedule.
"I think we could go with what we did here and it would be good."
If Phelps performs anything like he did here, it would be far better than "good."
On Sunday, Phelps surpassed Mark Spitz for most world records set in individual events at a single meet. Phelps set his fifth world mark in an individual event by clocking 4 minutes, 9.09 seconds in the 400m individual medley, bettering his old world mark of 4:10.73 set earlier this year.
Spitz set records in four individual events at the 1972 Munich Olympics. He was also on three record-setting relays.
Earlier in the week, Phelps set new world standards in the 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley (twice).
In all, he finished with three gold and two silver medals.
"I left everything in the pool," Phelps said. "I don't have a drop of energy left."
"It's definitely a good experience. My goal coming into it was to do the best time in every single event, and I accomplished my goal so I can't ask for more."
Phelps' biggest rival for the title of world's best swimmer, Ian Thorpe, had an unhappy end to the championships.
Thorpe's Australian team was disqualified in 400m individual medley relay qualifying due to an exchange violation on Sunday morning.
On Sunday evening, the American team of Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hanson, Ian Crocker and Jason Lezak set a new world record in the 400 IM relay final.
Thorpe finished with three golds, one silver and one bronze medal. Yet his credentials in his rivalry with Phelps suffered. The Australian ``Thorpedo'' is being seen increasingly as a freestyle specialist, while Phelps performs well in every discipline.
Four of Thorpe's medals here came in freestyle events. The fifth was a silver-medal performance in the 200m IM -- won by Phelps.
At the 2001 worlds, Thorpe was the unquestionable No. 1, finishing with six golds.
As far as the latest overall duel in the pool between the US and Australia was concerned, the Americans left Barcelona with 11 golds and 28 swimming medals in total to six golds and 22 total medals for the Aussie "Dolphins."
On the overall medals table, which also included diving, water polo, synchronized swimming and open water swimming, the US led with 12 golds, followed by Russia (10) and Australia (8). China, was fourth with seven golds.
Thirteen world records were set in the championships and one other world mark was tied.