History maker Phelps set for final plunge
Record-breaker Michael Phelps will climb onto the blocks for the final race of his astonishing Olympic career on Saturday after proving once again in Rio that nobody does it better.
A glorious career had threatened to end in public humiliation when Phelps was arrested for drunk driving two years ago, but the American has banished his demons in dramatic fashion to leave a Games legacy it is hard to imagine ever being eclipsed.
Already the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, Phelps captured four more gold medals over the first six days in Rio to take his tally to a staggering 22 in his fifth and final Games.
A shock defeat by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling in the 100m butterfly on Friday ended a perfect Rio run for the 31-year-old. But he should finish with a fifth gold in Saturday’s 4×100 medley relay — an event the United States have never lost at the Olympics.
Records have tumbled again: a crushing victory in Thursday’s 200m individual medley brought a fourth successive gold for Phelps in the event.
“I think the biggest thing for me through the meet so far is I’ve been able to kind of finish how I wanted to,” said the American, who initially retired after the London Games four years ago before launching a comeback a year later.
“I’m happy with how things finished. That’s why I came back after ’12. I didn’t want to have a what-if 20 years later. Being able to close the door on this sport the way I wanted to, that’s why I’m happy now.”
– Sweet revenge –
Phelps notably became only the third Olympic athlete to win four straight titles in the same individual event after fellow Americans Al Oerter in the discus (1956-68) and Carl Lewis in the long jump (1984-96), once again transcending his sport.
He also regained his cherished 200m fly, exacting sweet revenge over fierce rival Chad le Clos. Phelps lost by a fingertip to the South African in London four years ago.
When Phelps climbed, like a Wimbledon tennis champion, past a bank of poolside photographers to kiss fiancee Nicole and baby Boomer, the Brazilian crowd erupted.
There was a party atmosphere when he returned an hour later to anchor a fourth straight American victory in the 4x200m freestyle, cruising home almost two and a half seconds ahead of Britain’s James Guy as fans rose to acclaim an Olympic legend.
The manner in which Phelps vaporised le Clos, Hagino and long-time rival Ryan Lochte in the 200m fly and 200m medley will have many wondering whether he isn’t bowing out too soon.
But Phelps insisted there would be no U-turn, saying: “Nope, done. I’m not going four more years.
“This has been a very special week so far,” added Phelps. “It’s wild to think that over 20 years ago I learnt to swim and it’s all stopping in the next 48 hours.”
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