Mark Spitz used one word to sum up the performance of US countryman Michael Phelps, who has matched his record of seven gold medals at one Olympics -- epic.
Phelps, 23, won his seventh gold medal at the Beijing Olympics on Saturday when he touched out Serbia's Milorad Cavic by 0.01 second in the men's 100 metres butterfly final.
This puts him on a par with Spitz's record -- and gives him a shot at topping that tally and bagging eight golds when he competes in his final event on Sunday, the 4x100 medley relay.
Spitz, 58, said he always knew someone would eventually match the benchmark he set at 1972 Munich Games.
"I wondered what I was going to say at this monumental time when it would happen and who I would say it to, and, of course, I thought I was going to say it to you (Phelps) for some time now," Spitz told NBC.
"The word comes to mind: epic. What you did tonight was epic. I never thought for one moment you were out of that race. You represent such an inspiration to youngsters around the world."
As Phelps has bagged gold after gold at Beijing, the world's media has been hunting for Spitz to get his reaction to the swimmer rivalling his record after 36 years.
There were rumours that he was in Beijing, then that he was in Hong Kong, and then that he was at home in California.
However it turned out he was in Detroit, watching one of his two sons play in a basketball tournament.
After Saturday's race Phelps told NBC that he thought he had lost the race that earned him a extra $1 million from sponsor Speedo which promised him a bonus if he matched Spitz's record.
"As soon as I took the last half stroke, to be honest, I thought I had lost the race," he told the US network that bought exclusive broadcasting rights to the Aug 8-24 Games.
"And that was the difference, 'cause if I would have glided then I would have come up short. I've been lucky enough over the last four years to have two pretty good finishes in Olympic finals. I guess I'm blessed."
Whether he wins an eighth gold medal or not, Phelps will leave Beijing as the most successful Olympian of all time.
By Saturday he had lifted his gold medal tally to 13 which tops the previous record of nine held jointly by Spitz, US sprinter Carl Lewis, Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi and Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina.