Michael Phelps left the Olympic pool for the last time on Saturday having fulfilled a childhood dream.
The US swimmer’s career ended with his 23rd gold medal in the 4×100 medley relay at Rio 2016, which extended his record as the most decorated Olympian of all time.
“This all started and began with one little dream as a kid that changed the sport of swimming and tried to do something nobody else has ever done,” said Phelps.
|Phelps’ Olympics medals|
“And it turned out pretty cool. This is how I wanted to finish my career. I’ve lived a dream come true.
“Getting off the bus and walking into the pool tonight, I almost felt myself starting to cry. Last warm-up, last time putting on a suit, last time walking out in front of thousands of people representing my country. It’s insane. This is how I wanted to finish my career.”
After the 2012 London Olympics, which he had declared to be his last, Phelps walked away with not only the regret that he simply went through the motions but like many athletes in retirement, he appeared lost and unprepared.
He talked of becoming a professional golfer but eventually found himself testing the waters of a swimming comeback and despite some missteps – a drink-driving conviction that led to rehab and a suspension – he made his fifth Olympic team.
In Rio, where he took his Olympic tally to a staggering 28 medals – he also won three silvers and two bronze – it was apparent he was not just going through the motions at all.
“I said when I was 15 years old, I want to change the sport of swimming. Yeah, I’ve done a lot, but it’s not done,” Phelps said, referring to the future.
Phelps’ only silver medal in Rio came in the 100m butterfly when Singapore’s Joseph Schooling beat him to land his country’s maiden Olympic gold medal.
Phelps, the defending champion and world record holder, took silver in the race along with two of his greatest rivals: South Africa’s Chad Le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh.
The three joined hands and stepped up together to the podium. Astonishingly, all three had touched out in 51.14 seconds, behind Schooling’s Olympic record 50.39.