Michael Phelps announced that his Olympic career would come to a close at the 2016 Olympic games. “I am not coming back in four years,” he told reporters after he finished second in the 100-meter butterfly race. Phelps cemented his spot as the most accomplished Olympic athlete of our generation, even of all time. His final Olympic appearance this year was the perfect ending to a storied career.
Michael Phelps will finish his career with 23 gold medals, three silver, and two bronzes. To understand where this historic run started, we look to the 2004 Athens Olympics where a 19-year-old boy from Baltimore busted onto the Olympic stage by winning a whopping six gold medals and adding two bronze medals. Also, he tacked on another ridiculous eight gold medals in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Although things slowed down for Phelps in the 2012 London games, he won two silvers and (you guessed it) another four gold medals. Appearing to lose a step, Phelps would retire after the London games. Some time had gone by, rumors floating around that Phelps was training again for the 2016 Rio Olympics, this time making it clear, he was going to end his career on his terms.
Defying the swimming world again, Phelps announced he’d return from retirement for one final shot at Olympic glory.
Back again in this year’s Olympics, he added another five gold and a silver medal to his collection, Phelps cemented himself as possibly the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.
The world has never seen this kind of dominance from a swimmer ever, the natural response to this sort of dominance, why not come back for more? While most believe, including Ryan Lochte, that Phelps could return to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. It’s important to understand that Phelps now, 31 years old, has a family and a new purpose to serve in his life. Why wouldn’t he want to go out at the apex of his career?
Recapping his historic run through Rio, he won gold in the 200-meter butterfly, 4×100-meter freestyle relay, the 4×200-meter freestyle, and in the 200-meter individual medley, while winning silver in the 100-meter butterfly. It’s pretty obvious that Michael Phelps can still swim at the highest level and win.
On Saturday night, as Phelps walked into the stadium, the crowd cheered and screamed for their Olympic hero. Phelps was swimming the butterfly leg on USA’s 4×100-meter medley relay team, an event the Americans hadn’t lost in the Olympics. Of course, after he dived into that pool and gave the Americans the lead they needed, he graciously watched on as Nathan Adrian pulled away to deliver the gold for team USA. Winning by a whole 1.29 seconds, Phelps was ready to stand on the podium for his country one last time.
Michael Phelps after receiving his 23rd gold medal and standing on the podium, took a victory lap around the pool for one last time. The five-time Olympic champion pointed out his son and wife to the crowd; he looked at them for a few seconds before continuing. As the end drew near, Phelps grabbed an American flag, walked towards the exit for the stadium with it. He looked into the crowd for last time; he mouthed the words, “Thank you” over and over again.
The world looked at the pool one last time, remembering that boy from Baltimore who just wanted to be the best, and get his drivers license. Our American swimming hero had vanished into the night, showing us that the legend was gone; leaving the sport, he loved at the height of his career. Michael Phelps dominance afforded him, the perfect ending to a storied career that the world will never forget.
he sport he loved at the height of his career. Michael Phelps dominance afforded him, the perfect ending to a storied career that the world will never forget.
Rutgers Student studying Political Science & Government with a minor in Journalism who has an interest in the intersection of journalism and political movements.