Olympic Viewing: Era ending for swimming commentator, too

There was a real sadness in Rowdy Gaines' voice as he called Michael Phelps' 17th gold medal-winning race and last individual Olympics competition.

"I'm going to miss that man," the NBC swimming analyst said.

The curtain officially closed Saturday on the Phelps era with his final medley relay race and 18th gold 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.

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.

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.

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