Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps smiles after winning the 200-meter freestyle and breaking his own world record with a time of 1 minute, 42.96 seconds. It was Phelps' third gold and third world record in three events at the Beijing Games, and his ninth career gold medal, tying him with American swimmer Mark Spitz, American track star Carl Lewis, Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina and Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi for the most of all time. (Getty Images / August 12, 2008)

Thorpe's record had stood for six years until Phelps broke it. It was, until that point, widely considered almost untouchable, perhaps the most impressive mark on the books.

"I thought the 200 freestyle record by Ian would last for 10, maybe 20 years," van Den Hoogenband said that day.

The race in Melbourne essentially chased van den Hoogenband from the event. He dropped it days before the Olympics, knowing there was little point in wasting his energy. Phelps is simply swimming at a higher level than anyone ever dreamed. His time today was 1.10 seconds faster than the mark Thorpe set in Fukuoka, Japan in 2001 that seemed to be unbreakable.

"Phelps swam so fast," said Park, who won the 400 freestyle earlier this week, becoming the first Korean to win an Olympic medal in swimming. "It is my honor to compete with him."

Phelps, who continues to drum the athletic mantra of "taking it just one race at a time," did his best to deflect questions about whether or not he thinks eight gold medals is a possibility.

"I'm not even halfway done yet," Phelps said. "I've done everything I wanted to do so far."

He did admit that it's been hard to catch up on sleep with all the excitement of setting two individual world records as well as being a part of what might go down as the best relay finish in Olympic history.

"I have friends texting me all afternoon saying, 'I can't sleep, I'm so fired up about this race. How are you napping?' " Phelps said. "I'd respond, 'Well, I'm not napping if you're still texting me.'"

After the medal ceremony, Phelps strolled across the pool deck until he found his family in the stands. He handed the bouquet of flowers given to medal winners to his sister, Hilary. As she watched him walk away, she wiped tears from in her eyes.

It was that kind of day. Didn't matter if you were a fan, a friend, a competitor or even a big sister, you couldn't help but feel a little bit awed.

kevin.vanvalkenburg@baltsun.com