History man Phelps sets new records in Rio

When Michael Phelps led the USA team out into the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony at the Maracana, he was already the most decorated Olympian of all time. As he showed over the next two weeks, he was in no mood to rest on his laurels.

Picture by 2016 Getty Images

Phelps is a remarkable competitor and in his fifth and final Olympics was back for more. The 31-year-old had retired from the sport after winning six medals at London 2012, but returned two years later and had a point to prove in Rio. He wanted to show that he could still do it – that, even with advancing years, he was still a peerless presence in the pool. If he was to bow out now, with a clutch of immensely talented competitors straining to succeed him, he would not do so quietly.

There was a glint in Phelps’ eyes as he took his place to swim the second leg of the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay. His contribution, ensuring that the USA overtook a French team that had started superbly, proved decisive and if there were any doubts about his readiness for a return to Olympic competition they had been dispelled in spectacular fashion. Team USA won gold – Phelps’ 19th overall.

Now he was on a roll and his next success came in an individual event. Phelps had already won two golds and a silver in the 200m butterfly at previous Games; this time he wanted his title back and he delivered in dramatic fashion. Edging out Japan’s Masato Saka by 0.04 seconds in the tightest of contests, he raised his hands to the air and pointed to the sky. It had been hard work, but Phelps was on top of the world once more.

The medals came thick and fast after that. Later the same day, Phelps and Team USA won the 4x200m freestyle relay; they took gold in that event for the fourth Games in a row, and four was to be the magic number for Phelps in the 200m individual medley too. Watched, as ever, by a throng of adoring supporters inside the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, he beat another Japanese opponent – Kosuke Hagino – to win his fourth gold of Rio 2016 and his fourth consecutive triumph in the event.

He was defeated by one of his young rivals, the Singaporean Joseph Schooling, in the 100m butterfly – but there was to be one more gold for Phelps. He was once again an inspirational presence for his team, this time in the 4x100m medley relay, to bring up the 23rd gold medal and 28th of any colour in a breathtaking Olympic career.

It was a simply astonishing set of performances. Nobody else at Rio 2016 was able to match his five goals and single silver. His hunger had been questioned, and so had his ability to compete at an age that sees swimmers rarely manage to win consistently. He proved any sceptics wrong – and reasserted his status as an Olympian whose achievements will be an inspiration to others for decades.

Watch more videos of Michael Phelps on the Olympic Channel.


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