Michael Phelps brought the curtain down on one of sport’s most storied careers Saturday with a dynamite relay swim to give himself a final tally of 23 Olympic gold medals.
The American, far and away the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, finished with five golds and a silver in Rio after signing off in dramatic style by coming to his team’s rescue in the 4x100m medley relay.
After a glittering career in the pool, we pick out Phelps’ five great Olympic moments.
1. It was swimming’s race of the century: 19-year-old emerging star Phelps up against the great Ian Thorpe and compatriot Grant Hackett and defending Olympic champion Pieter van den Hoogenband in the 200m freestyle in Athens. Phelps set an American record but finished third. The defeat only fueled Phelps – who set a world record in a dominant 200m freestyle triumph four years later in Beijing.
2. Phelps’ seventh gold medal in Beijing came by the narrowest of margins, in a scintillating duel with Milorad Cavic — the tough-talking Serbian who said he’d like to go down in history as “some guy” who spoiled Phelps’s eight-gold bid. In the lone final in which he failed to set a world record, Phelps beat Cavic by one one-hundredth of a second. It wasn’t Phelps’ first close-run 100m fly gold. In Athens, he beat world record-holding teammate Ian Crocker by four one-hundredths of a second.
3. Phelps’ 200m butterfly triumph in Beijing was a master-class in discipline and technique as Phelps swam most of it blind when water filled his goggles but still set a world record.
4. Just as he had in Athens and Beijing, Phelps had to rally in London to win a third straight 100m butterfly, coming off the turn in seventh and powering home to turn the tables on South African Chad le Clos — who had beaten him at the last stroke in the 200m fly. The victory gave Phelps his 17th Olympic gold.
5. Phelps wrested back the 200m butterfly crown in Rio — avenging his defeat to le Clos who faded to finish fifth and returning to the top in the event that started it all. The win made Phelps the oldest individual swimming gold medallist in Olympic history at 31. There to share it were fiancee Nicole Johnson and three-month-old son Boomer, whose kiss from his teary dad melted hearts at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium.
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