Fitting finale: Phelps retires with one last gold
Before they could answer, Phelps smiled and said emphatically: “Yes, yes.”
The most decorated Olympian called it a career on Saturday night with a fitting ending — a gold medal in the 4×100-meter medley relay at the London Games.
Phelps’ totals in four Olympics: 22 medals, 18 golds, 51 races and 9,900 meters of swimming.
“I’ve been able to do everything that I wanted,” he said. “If you can say that about your career, there’s no need to move forward. Time for other things.”
Having hung up his suit, cap and goggles for the last time, the 27-year-old from Baltimore is looking forward to the rest of his life.
He wants to travel and see places beyond the pools and hotel rooms of the last 12 years. His intended destinations include Australia and Europe. He wants to go cage diving among great white sharks in South Africa with Chad le Clos, the last man to beat him in the Olympics.
“I’ve been able to see so many amazing places in the world, but I’ve really never gotten to experience them,” Phelps said.
There’s golf and poker to be played, too. He can’t wait for his hometown Ravens to start another football season, and don’t be surprised if turns up to watch some soccer matches.
“He’s a true sports fanatic,” Debbie Phelps said.
And Mom knows best: “He needs time for himself first,” she said.
Phelps still plans to be around the sport that made him rich and famous, saying, “I would like to try to take it to an even higher level than it is now.”
He certainly left it on a high note.
Phelps regained the lead in the medley relay with his trademark butterfly stroke, then handed it over to freestyle anchor Nathan Adrian.
Adrian brought it home in 3 minutes, 29.35 seconds. Japan took the silver in 3:31.26 and Australia got the bronze in 3:31.68. The team of Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen, Phelps and Adrian hugged it out before Phelps waved and smiled to the crowd.
Later, he grew reflective, saying, “I’m a lot more relaxed than I thought I’d be in this moment.”
Warming up before his last race, Phelps called his coach over to the side of the practice pool. He thanked Bob Bowman for helping him win all those medals, a feat they accomplished together.
That private moment got to both of them.
“I said, ‘My tears could hide behind my goggles. Yours are streaming down your face,'” Phelps said. “I wouldn’t be here today without everything he’s done for me. I love him to death.”
Bowman said: “I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”
On a night when Phelps exited the world stage, Missy Franklin capped a brilliant Olympic debut by helping the U.S. win gold in the women’s medley relay — with a world-record time, no less.
The 17-year-old high school student from Colorado gives the U.S. hope for the post-Phelps era, having won five medals in London, including four golds to match Amy Van Dyken at the 1996 Atlanta Games for the most by an American female swimmer. She swam seven events, the same as Phelps.
“I don’t think his shoes will ever be filled. They’re so huge,” Franklin said. “Hopefully I can make little paths next to him.”
The Americans dominated the medal count at the pool, finishing with 16 golds and 30 overall.
Franklin grabbed the lead right away in the backstroke, and Rebecca Soni stretched out the advantage in the breaststroke. Dana Vollmer cruised through the fly and Allison Schmitt finished it off, pulling away for a time of 3:52.05, beating the mark of 3:52.19 set by China at the 2009 world championships.
It was the second world record of the night and ninth of the Olympic meet, proving fast times are still possible even without banned high-tech bodysuits.
Sun Yang of China won his second gold in the 1,500 freestyle, lowering his own world record with a time of 14:31.02. He also won a gold in the 400 free, tied for the silver in the 200 free, and was part of the bronze medal-winning team in the 4×200 free relay.
Yang dived into the water before the starter’s gun, but was given another chance because the starter heard the same whistle in the crowd that Sun heard, causing him to leave the blocks early.
Canada’s Ryan Cochrane took second in 14:39.63, while defending Olympic champion Ous Mellouli of Tunisia settled for bronze in 14:40.31.
Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands won the women’s 50 freestyle to complete a sweep of the sprints.
Having already won the 100 free, Kromowidjojo clocked an Olympic-record 24.05 in the one-lap race.
Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus touched in 24.28 to take the silver medal and another Dutchwoman, Marleen Veldhuis, finished in 24.39 for the bronze.
Phelps was asked about a comeback in time for the 2016 Rio Games. He gave a definitive no in response, and Bowman doesn’t think he’ll be back, either.
“I guess if he finds after a few years he’s searching for something and thinks he can find it in swimming, he could look at it,” Bowman said. “I think he’s ready to explore other things. He’s done all he can do here.”
Phelps’ teammates expect to see him down the road, even if it’s not in the pool.
“He’s leaving, but he’s still part of the family,” Hansen said.
Franklin remembers being awed the first time she met Phelps four years ago. With her five medals, she’s well on her way to the kind of remarkable career he had.
“Just watching Michael swim is beautiful. You can tell that he’s meant to do it,” she said. “He’s done so much for swimming and we’re all going to miss him so much.”