London Just about every day, they'd go at it, often before sunrise, sniping at each other about one thing or another. Bob Bowman was always critiquing, Michael Phelps was usually resisting.
Their game of tug-of-war was typical for a coach and athlete, especially at an elite level with so much time and energy invested in the training.
But it was also special, a bond strong enough to survive more than 15 years.
Saturday, though, was the end of it all. And they both knew it, which is why Phelps, as he eased through a few laps in the pool on the morning of his final Olympic race, decided to tell his coach how he really felt about all they'd accomplished together.
He called him over to the side of the pool and told him about how he'd always idolized Michael Jordan not that Bowman needed any reminding because he'd done things no one else in his sport had ever done.
"And then I said, 'You know what? I've been able to become the best swimmer of all time, and we got here together,'" Phelps said. "And I thanked him. And then it was funny: When I got out of the pool, he said, 'That's not fair.' I said, 'What's not fair about it?' He said, 'You were in the pool!' And I said, 'Yeah, and my tears could hide behind my goggles. Yours were streaming down your face.'"
Finally, he got him. And there was nothing Bowman could do about it but laugh. And cry.
"I'll never forget that as long as I live," Bowman said late Saturday night, his eyes red again after another moment or two just like it.
There were tears all around Saturday night, as Phelps finished his remarkable career in style, swimming a leg on the gold medal-winning U.S. medley relay team in the final race at the Olympic Aquatic Center in London. That triumph let Phelps finish his Olympic career with 22 medals, 18 of them gold more than twice as many as the next-best in history.
After Saturday's medal ceremony for the men's relay, there was a special presentation, recognizing his status as the most decorated Olympian of all time. Looking at it later at a press conference, Phelps choked up briefly.
"It's tough to put into words right now," he said. "But I did everything I wanted to. I finished my career how I wanted to. And I always said, if I can say that about my career, that's all that matters. I've been able to do it."
He did it with mind-boggling consistency, too. In four Olympics, Phelps swam in 24 event finals, and only twice did he fail to finish on the podium. The first came as an awkward 15-year-old at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, when he finished fifth in his only event, the 200-meter butterfly. The last came in his first race in London, when he finished a surprising fourth in the 400-meter individual medley and some wondered if he'd stayed too long.
Or wondered, at least, if he'd simply started training too late as he struggled to find the motivation to keep swimming after his dominant performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he broke Mark Spitz's record by winning eight gold medals.
"Honestly, the first race here, I think, kind of took the pressure off," Bowman admitted Saturday night. "We were just saying (then), 'Well, we might as well enjoy it. It doesn't look like it's gonna go too well.' I do think that kind of helped us relax a little bit."
Sure enough, Phelps settled in and started swimming like himself again, winning six medals, four of them gold, including a pair of individual races.
So how about an encore? He knew that question was coming Saturday night, but the 27-year-old Phelps, whose career earnings eventually figure to be worth an estimated $100 million, merely shook his head and said again, "I told myself I never want to swim when I'm 30."
Bowman said much the same when asked about the possibility of a comeback?
"No, I don't think so," said Bowman, who also plans to take a year off from coaching. "Because I think we've had a great end to a great run. There's not much more he can do.
"I guess if he finds after a couple years that he's searching for something, and he thinks he can find it in swimming, he'll look at it. But I don't think he will. I think he's ready to explore other things. He's done all he can do here."
And now that he has, after one final swim, and one last gold medal, here's one final thought about the end of Phelps transcendent career: He left everyone wanting more.
More of him, yes. That was always going to be the case, though, considering Phelps, at age 27, a winner of six medals here in London, could probably do this again in four years in Rio.
"Just watching Michael swim is beautiful," said Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old U.S. women's star who competed in seven events in London, most ever for a female Olympic swimmer. "Watching what he does, and how he moves through the water, you can tell that he's meant to do it."
But more of his contemporaries, too. Just ask Ryan Lochte, who was reminded again here in London just how hard it is to be the next Michael Phelps, especially when the last one's fin is still in the water.
And more of his predecessors, the next generation of swimmers, both in the U.S, and abroad. People in the sport already are referring to the "Phelps Generation," and based on what we saw in London, they're ready to do big things. Bigger things than most imagined until Phelps came along and, as Franklin put it, "helped people kind of re-think the impossible."
But also more of the sport itself. The greatest swimmer in history made the pool cool by making the centerpiece of the world's biggest sporting event. And now that he's left the deck, that doesn't have to change.
Will it? Only time will tell. But Phelps certainly did his part, and then some.