The final day of the 12th FINA World Championships provided a perfect farewell to Melbourne for two outstanding athletes of the swimming programme, Michael Phelps and Libby Lenton. Phelps claimed a record seventh gold medal, and fourth individual world record, while Lenton etched her name in the record books with a third individual title and a fifth gold medal for the championships.
Phelps' hopes for eight gold medals from these championships were dashed by Ian Crocker all-too-eager dive in the heats of the medley relay on Sunday morning, but nothing could take the gloss off the 21-year-old's heroics in Melbourne, and he smashed his own 400m individual medley world record to top it all off.
Phelps touched in a time of four minutes 6.22 seconds, 2.07 better than the time he set in winning the 2004 Athens Olympics gold medal. It wasn't all one-way traffic for Phelps, as team-mate Ryan Lochte headed him after the backstroke leg. For the briefest of moments, the world mark looked out of reach, but in 50m of powerful breaststroke he was back on track for gold and the record. He easily took both ahead of Lochte while Italian Luca Marin charged into third.
Amid all the fanfare around Phelps, Lenton's achievements in Melbourne have slipped under the radar. But her memorable grin shone again on Sunday, as she won a thrilling final of the women's 50m freestyle. Having already won the 100m freestyle, 100m butterfly and two relays, it meant five golds for the 22-year-old. Lenton surged late to successfully defend her world title in 24.53 ahead of Sweden's Therese Alshammer, while Marleen Veldhuis was third.
Australia's second gold medal, and ninth of the championship, came in the very last event, the men's 4 x 100m medley relay. The Aussie men had failed to win any titles up to this point, but with the USA out thanks to Crocker's indiscretion, it provided an excellent chance. Freestyler Eamon Sullivan produced a grandstand finish, coming from 1.2 seconds behind at the final change to grab the gold in 3:34.93, much to the delight of Matt Welsh, Brenton Rickard and Andrew Lauterstein. Japan and Russia took silver and bronze.
But there was disappointment for the home fans in the men's 1500m, as an embattled Grant Hackett failed to take his fifth-straight world title, finishing seventh. The king was knocked off his throne in emphatic fashion by Polish teenager Mateusz Sawrymowicz. While Sawrymowicz's time of 14:45.94 was some 11.38 seconds off Hackett's world mark, it was nevertheless a personal best and good enough for gold ahead of Russia's Yury Prilukov and Great Britain's David Davies.
The swimming programme at the 12th FINA World Championships has become synonymous with two things, world records and American gold medals. Katie Hoff provided the final instalment of both in the women's 400m IM. Her time of 4:32.89 was 0.70 faster than the old world mark and was easily good enough for her third gold medal of the championships. Russian Yana Martynova took silver, and Australian Stephanie Rice the bronze.
The third American gold medal for the night went to Jessica Hardy in the 50m breaststroke, as she upset Leisel Jones's quest for a clean sweep of the breaststroke events. Hardy tipped out the Australian by just 0.07 of a second, taking 0.22 of her personal best in winning the gold medal in 30.63. American Tara Kirk finished with the bronze medal.
The opening final of the last night, the 50m backstroke, was taken out by South Africa's Gerhard Zandberg. Zandberg (24.98) surged late in the race to defeat German world record holder Thomas Rupprath by 0.22 of second with Great Britain's Liam Tancock third in 25.23.
Earlier in the day at Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre, two epic battles unfolded for the medals in the men's water polo. Extra-time was needed to separate Croatia and Hungary, after the 2004 Olympic champions surrendered a two-goal lead in the final quarter. Croatia took full advantage, winning 9-8, and taking its first gold medal of the championships.
Earlier, Spain needed an epic penalty shootout before prevailing 18-17 over former champion Serbia to take the bronze.