Phelps First To 19 Career Medals

Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympics athlete of all-time today. (Photo: Kirby Lee)

Love him or hate him, Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in the history of the Games. Mr. Phelps had two races in the Aquatic Centre today and any medal in either of his two finals would have tied him with Larisa Latynina for the most medals by any Olympian, ever. The American swimmer was trying to first tie, then beat, Ms. Latynina, who racked up 18 medals for the Soviet Union from 1954-1966 (in the 1956 Melbourne, 1960 Rome, and 1964 Tokyo Games). Well, let me tell you, the man who already has the most gold’s of any Olympian ever did just that.

The first race on Michael Phelps agenda today was the 200-meter freestyle. Phelps had won the past two Olympic gold medal in the event, and had he been able to win gold in this afternoon’s race he would have become the first male swimmer to ever win the same event in three Olympics. Phelps has said in the past that he “always wanted to be the first person in the world to do something”, but unfortunately winning this race for the third consecutive time was not meant to be.

Now, I’m a track and field guy, I competed in that in high school level and still follow my college team even though I’ve graduated (since I wasn’t good enough to run at the division I level, at least not in the ACC). I used to rag on swimming,  and truth be told I still do to a good friend of mine who at one point held almost every high school record in my small town, but what Michael Phelps has accomplished in his Olympic career has made me appreciate the sport. I can’t swim very well myself, but watching Phelps and the other Americans compete in the pool make me feel proud to be an American. Today, Phelps first race even made me sick.

The 200-meter fly was an amazing race. I watched the live stream online this afternoon, and then watched the NBC tape-delayed replay, and I still couldn’t believe what happened. Michael Phelps got beat. For the first time in a major meet since the 2000 Olympics Phelps did not win gold, as Chad le Clos of South Africa touched the wall just 5/100ths of a second quicker than Phelps. Now, to my untrained eye, it appeared that Phelps was in between strokes and stayed underwater a bit longer than maybe he typically does, and that may have cost him. The NBC streaming announcers called Phelps’ finish  a “rookie mistake” and that’s way too harsh for somebody who picked up his 18th (and record tying) medal with that race. NBC’s primetime announcers, with the benefit of a 5 or 6 hour tape delay, had the benefit of realizing that Phelps didn’t have his typical turns down (which would have cost him at least a second over the course of the race), but they also said that Le Clos “punched the wall” while Phelps just glided into it. That could have been all the difference in the world.

Thankfully for Phelps, the disappointment of earning silver (isn’t it nice when being second in the world is discouraging for you?) didn’t last very long, as within the hour he was ready to compete for the 4×200 meter free-style relay and a chance to cement his place as the world’s most decorated athlete.

The 4x200m freestyle wasn’t half the race that the 200m fly was. The United States had this one locked up from the beginning. Hate to have to give this kid credit again, but Ryan Lochte swam a tremendous first leg in this relay, finishing at  1:45.15 and giving the Americans almost a full second lead over the rest of the field. In the second leg, Conor Dwyer did he what he did as well, again increasing the lead for the Americans and giving them over a 2 second lead over the Germans.

The third leg was more of the same, as Ricky Berens again increased the lead for Phelps and his compatriots. By the time the third leg of the relay completed his lengths of the pool, the American swimmers had almost a 4 second lead. And when Phelps turn came he did not disappoint. While rival Yannick Agnel, the French 200 meter freestyle gold medalist, did gain just a bit on Phelps and the Americans, USA had the last laugh by winning the gold medal.

This race officially made Michael Phelps the most decorated Olympian in the history of the Olympic Games. The first time that Phelps had ever anchored in the Olympics earned him his 19th career medal overall and 15th gold, and the 6:59.70 time for this event was just incredible as well. I wish there was another word I could use to describe Phelps and this astonishing feat, but all I can come up with is INCREDIBLE.

Mr. Phelps, thank you for everything that you have done for the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and for USA Swimming more specifically. The world may never see a swimmer (or athlete) as talented at what they do as Phelps, and while today’s race also earned Ryan Lochte his 9th Olympic medal, I think it will be a while before we ever see an athlete approach 20 career medals like this (if we ever do). Phelps did it, he fucking did it, and the 27-year old earned everything he’s accomplished. His long time coach, Bob Bowman, a Florida State University graduate and former Noles assistant coach also deserves some credit for the incredible achievements of his prodigy.

Congratulations, Phelps. You are the first ever Olympian to 19 medals, good luck getting number 20, bro.

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