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Missy Franklin, Ye Shiwen, Sun Yang and Yannick Agnel were part of a youth movement in the 2012 Olympic pool that signaled swimming has plenty to look forward to after Michael Phelps.
Phelps put the finishing touches on an epic Olympic career in London as exciting young swimmers from around the world promised to carry the sport through to Rio 2016.
Franklin (pictured), just 17 at her first Olympics, left London with four gold medals and two world records.
She helped propel the United States to its familiar spot atop the Olympic swimming medal table with 16 gold, eight silver and six bronze for a total of 30.
World record-breaking performances by teenager Ye and Sun saw China confirm its arrival as an Olympic swimming power with five gold medals and 10 overall.
Right behind China, France claimed a superb four golds, with Agnel delivering a scintillating 4x100m free relay gold ahead of the US before a dominant victory in the 200m freestyle that left American Ryan Lochte trailing in his wake.
France's four golds were one more than it had claimed in all previous Games, and Agnel said he had no intention of letting up before Rio.
Traditional power Australia, meanwhile, floundered in London after big guns James Magnussen and James Roberts failed to fire in the freestyle sprints.
Australia's tally of one gold, six silver and three bronze in London was its lowest since 1992, and it was without an individual gold medalist for the first time since 1976.
The flop prompted Swimming Australia to back an independent probe into the debacle, with federation chief executive Kevin Neil stepping down in November.
That's the same month that mining billionaire Gina Rinehart promised A$10 million ($10.4 million) to support the country's leading swimmers.
That was good news for talented swimmers like Magnussen, who at 21 still has time to regroup and head to Rio.
The cocky young Aussie came away from his first Olympics even more impressed with what Phelps had accomplished in four Olympic campaigns that yielded a record 22 medals - 18 of them gold.
"I have a lot more respect for guys like Michael Phelps who can come to the Olympics and back it up under that pressure," Magnussen said.
Phelps certainly was under pressure in London, if not to match his eight-gold exploits of Beijing in 2008 than to avoid a large-scale failure that would, for some, taint that achievement.
After a stuttering start, Phelps finished with four gold medals and two silver, shattering the record for total medals in a career.
In fact, his 18 career gold matched the previous record for total medals amassed by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
Chad le Clos, who became the first South African man to win individual Olympic swimming gold, unabashedly admitted his entire career was modeled on that of Phelps.
His reward was to become the first in a decade to vanquish Phelps in a major international 200m butterfly final.
Le Clos, 20, was among the raft of young swimmers revealed in London, who can be expected to shine at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona and - if all goes well for them - in Rio.
Lithuania's Ruta Meilutyte became the first 15-year-old Olympic swimming champion for 40 years as she powered to the 100m breaststroke gold - then 15-year-old Katie Ledecky of the US won the women's 800m free in the second-fastest time in history.
Japanese 18-year-old Akihiro Yamaguchi, who missed out on an Olympic berth, set a world record in the men's 200m breaststroke in September as he signaled his intent to take his place on the global stage.
(China Daily 12/29/2012 page15)