In a Hurt of Pain, Michael Phelps Smiled

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

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Editorial Coverage Sponsored By FINIS

By David Rieder.

It was to be a showdown between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, the last time the two titans would ever go head-to-head before Phelps entered his second retirement. And on top of that it was to be their one chance to clash with the world’s next great IMer, Kosuke Hagino, who already had a gold medal in the 400 IM from earlier in the meet.

But in the end, the men’s 200 IM final—once again—was all about Michael Phelps.

Phelps trailed Lochte by one one-hundredth of a second at the halfway point and then pulled ahead on the breaststroke. Turning for home with a lead of four tenths of a second, Phelps exploded.

“I was in a hurt of pain going home the last 50,” he said. “Just forced myself to stay underwater and spun my wheels as fast as I could.”

He pulled away in typical Phelps fashion, splitting 27.70 for the freestyle leg—faster than anyone else in the field. He touched in 1:54.66, the eighth-fastest in history and almost two seconds ahead of silver medalist Hagino. Phelps had only gone quicker three times in his career, not once since coming back to the sport in 2014.

When Phelps captured gold in the 200 fly Tuesday night, he pulled himself up on the lane line, raised his arms to the crowd and wagged his finger. He wagged his fingers again after the 200 IM—four of them.

Four straight Olympic gold medals. Of course, Phelps had been the only man to win three straight in the same event after he captured both the 200 IM and 100 fly in London four years ago. He succeeded in winning his third where so many legends—Alexander Popov, Pieter van den Hoogenband, Grant Hackett and Kosuke Kitajima—had fallen short.

Four years ago, it never seemed that Phelps would be back for Rio to take his shot at four straight, insisting that he was done for the sport forever—so much so that this retirement tour feels like déjà vu. Phelps is now 31 years old, but in comparison to the shell of himself that showed up in London in 2012, this version of Phelps is downright vintage.

“My body doesn’t feel like an 18-year-old, but I’m having fun like an 18-year-old,” he said. “I enjoyed training like an 18-year-old. Before, I was always looking for shortcuts—I can skip a week here and get by, or I don’t need to do that butterfly set.”

The road he took was not without his bumps, but the months that Phelps called the most difficult of his life helped refuel his desire to compete and his drive for greatness.

“I knew when I first came back that it wasn’t going to be an easy process,” Phelps said. “But if I wanted the results then it was something that I had to do. And I think I was at a point in my life where I was ready to do that and wanted to do that.”

The journey back to the highest-level of the sport had its own ugly moments—Phelps in particular recalls one in-season meet in Charlotte where his results were so poor that he wondered why he was even bothering with the comeback.

But then glimpses of the greatest-of-all-time began to peek through the cracks, most notably at U.S. Nationals in San Antonio last August, when Phelps threw down the fastest time in the world in three different events. The last piece—the confidence—was back in place.

And then Phelps returned to the Olympic Games like he had never left. His 1.95-second margin of victory in the 200 IM was almost a half-second greater than the average margin of his previous three. All four of Phelps’ strokes looked clean, crisp and controlled.

“I think the biggest thing for me this meet is I’ve been able to finish like I wanted to,” Phelps said. “I’ve been able to accomplish things that I dreamt of.”

Phelps began his comeback with a set finish date in mind, and now that moment is squarely in sight. As tears dripped down his face as he stood on the gold medal podium for the 22nd time, Phelps knew such moments were fleeting.

“I only have to put a racing suit on two more times after tonight, and I only have to warm down one more time after tonight,” he said. “Tonight’s was my last 200 ever—that’s a very exciting one.”

Three more races remained on Phelps’ Olympic docket after his 200 IM final, all of them involving 100 meters of butterfly. One of those three came up quickly as Phelps navigated the brief turnaround from the 200 IM final to the 100 fly semifinal.

Swimming in lane five in the first of two semis, Phelps turned dead-last at the 50 but came home as he so often does. He did not touch out the field—actually, he was out-touched by one one-hundredth and finished in his heat—but he got himself a lane for the final.

Phelps then watched as Singapore’s Joseph Schooling blasted a 50.83 in the second semifinal, the top time in the world and one that could give Phelps a hard time Friday night.

Phelps has a challenge in front of him, but he has faced his fair share of those and never backed down from one. The 100 fly gives Phelps one last chance to add to his amazing total of 13 individual gold medals—a number that Phelps admits he cannot wrap his head around.

“I’m sure I will be able to at some point in my life, but right now I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s been a hell of a career.”

And for two more nights, that career will continue. But Saturday night, after the 400 medley relay final, the curtains close—this time, Phelps says, for good.

Click here to view full results from day six finals.

45 Comments

45 comments

  1. avatar
    W Winterstone

    Phelps. Retire. Go away. Stay sober. Find a way to grow up. When you combine Phelp’s great skill as a swimmer with the emptiness of his character, he is an athlete in name only. There is not a single memorable thing about him. From his sullen expressions, his obvious arrogance, his laughable ears, and his complete lack of social skills…he still seems like a precocious little boy with to much energy and no idea who he wants to be. I can’t stand him. I don’t care if he wins all the gold medals in the world, it will not hide his shallowness, vindictiveness and his basic emptiness as a human being. He is more of a tragedy than a champion. The olympics has this year produced some sterling and delightful American athletes of whom we can be proud of. Phelps is not one of them. This was more like an under the table business deal to get him out of debt and possibly keep him out of prison. For all of his medals, he will be forgotten as a person before the gates even close on the last day in Rio.

    • avatar
      David O'Brien

      you spoke for quite some time about your hero

      • avatar
        Runner

        Touché!

    • avatar
      Albert

      So much arrogance in your comments. You must be a real joy to talk to.

    • avatar
      John "Ratty" Arbuckle

      Phelps also committed the worst sin possible, being a horrible SNL host.

    • avatar
      Pau Hana

      Any validity to what you said was cancelled by your mocking his physical appearance and ear size. Sounds like you’re the shallow one.

    • avatar
      Craig from Planet Earth

      You can have any opinion of Michael Phelps you want. It is your opinion. History doesn’t carry opinions, just facts. Those facts go into libraries to be held in trust for posterity. This man is the greatest human athlete in the history of human kind.

    • avatar
      Kellie Merry

      Watta jerk u r. 13 and 22. You can do better?

    • avatar
      J

      Do you spew these unsavory remarks for attention or because you’re just that unpleasant? Either way it might be time for you to consider a psychological evaluation. You put an awful lot of effort into denigrating someone you’ve never even met. Lot of bitterness. Work on those anger issues. Breathe. Keep calm and don’t be a hater 😉

    • avatar
      Olivia

      Do everyone here a favor, and delete your account.

    • avatar
      Elizabeth Miceli

      You obviously haven’t read up on anything regarding Michael Phelps’ journey. He had bumps in the road, but don’t we all? He IS a man of character who found his way after he sunk to a low point. He has made a comeback and he should be applauded for his accomplishments both in and OUT of the pool. Your comments emit a ray of hatefulness that we just don’t need in our world today.

    • avatar
      Michael

      Who are you? Who is going to remember you?

    • avatar

      Clearly you have no idea about sport. You have to admire the talent and what it must take to be the best for nearly 20 years. We can only imagine the hurt to train that hard for that long. So what if he doesn’t goof around and yes he has had his issues but you live in his bubble and try to come away with your sanity. He is a role model of technique, desire, hard work and determination. End of

    • avatar
      Jake

      Your just being a dick man he has acimplished more at 31 then you will in your entire life

    • avatar

      W Winerstone, as amazing and unworldy as Phelps’ accomplishments in the pool were, I think most of his fans are even more proud of his growth and healing. At some point, we all have our own version of “laughable ears and no idea what we want to do.” But Phelps actually had the courage overcome his mental disorders/issues though some very hard work, and so can you. Here’s a virtual hug to get you started.

    • avatar
      Caitlin Garrison

      What. A. Jerk. You must be one miserable person. I truly feel sorry for you. Go look in the mirror, you won’t like what you see.

    • avatar
      Runner

      Sad. Sad you have so much jealousy towards this incredible athlete. MP is an incredible story from Baltimore, MD. His mother, sisters, coach deserve accolades for guiding him towards this fruitful path. MP is a great role model for swimmers worldwide. So what is your point?

  2. avatar
    Vonia T

    What ever he was then he isnt now. He has turned into a.Man with his head on straight , whom is and way was a great athlete. We all have things we go through as kids. Then those are over and its part of our past no need to rehash over and over you try and go for gold 22 time it takes work and dedication.

  3. avatar
    Dan Delepine

    God Bless you and your famaily’

  4. avatar
    Joe

    Have some respect he is the best ever ….what are you the best in the world at …being an ass****.

    • avatar
      Cana Duh

      Actually Canada’s swimmer Penny Oleksiak is going for her 5th medal in Rio tonight, she’s 16 and this is her first Olympics. At that age, Mr. Phelps didn’t win a single medal at his first Olympics. Every generation has their prodigy, Penny Oleksiak is it and she’s already surpassed Phelps.

      • avatar
        Mallaby

        Don’t think you know much about swimming, m’dear. 16-year-old girls swimming at the Olympics is not at all unusual. 16 year-old boys? Very, very rare. You have to compare like for like. Oleksiak’s achievements don’t make her stand apart from say, a 16-year-old Missy Franklin at the 2011 Worlds and as a 17-year-old, her 2012 Olympic accomplishments. Sorry to burst your bubble. Oh– and by the way, if you DO want to compare a 16-year-old Oleksiak to a 16 year-old Michael Phelps (which is ridiculous), know this: he set his first world record at the age of 15 and 9 months. How many records did Oleksiak set at age 15?

      • avatar
        Craig of our Planet Earth

        “…and she’s already surpassed Phelps..”. Wow one (1) Olympic game and you compare a girl to a legend. Make your statement when she earns her 20th gold medal. That statement makes you look (sorry to say) foolish. Just be glad you saw the greatest athlete of the last two thousand (2000) years.

    • avatar
      Cana Duh

      This week alone, Penny Oleksiak has broken 4 World records, at her first Olympics, at 16 years of age and going on her fifth (5th) medal. Sorry to burst your bubble.

      • avatar
        Han

        Ehr, she broke world junior records, that’s a massive difference than breaking 5 WR. Sorry to burst ur bubble again. The closest one to Phelps today is Ledecky, not Penny. Maybe one day, Penny can too, but as of now, she only won 1 gold, take it easy.

  5. avatar
    Glenn

    Since when is the process of becoming an adult and getting your priorities straight a bad thing!

  6. avatar
    John "Ratty" Arbuckle

    “A hurt of pain”? O editor, where art thou?!

    • avatar
      PAu Hana

      Phelps used that exact phrase. Are you suggesting the editor should change it for him?

  7. avatar
    Roza

    Mr.Phelps you are a Hero! Best best wishes in your further life! Best wishes for all your family!

  8. avatar
    Mike

    Michael Phelps will be remembered for a long time, and rightfully so. It has been a privilege to watch his accomplishments. What an example he has set,,aim high, work hard, accept the risks, go for it.

  9. avatar
    JmTZ

    I still don’t understand how some dared to say he is should have given the right to carry our flag to another athlete because she was a Muslim, Shame of those who dared. This is what sports is all about, winning medals. Lets put politics aside. It is a shame what we have become.

  10. avatar
    cowboy beef

    To W. Winterstone,
    You are simply jealous of what Phelps has done as a competitive swimmer. It is none of your business to criticize anyone via internet. Find something positive about others and praise instead of spending some time to post negative comments on web. What are you trying to accomplish? If you were, did you earn anything? What a waste of time! Lastly, YOU must have a way to grow up (as you wrote in the comment).

  11. avatar
    M Phelps fan club

    Dear W Winterstone,

    Too*

  12. avatar
    Laurie

    Athletics is a difficult pursuit because it has a definite tendency to favor young people. Then you have to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life once your body is worn out. At least people like Phelps have a family and a lot of money to ease the transition. Those who played rough contact sports might have a rocky second act. Some sports allow people to keep bicycle racing or horseback riding into more advanced age with the help of a machine or a trained animal. Let’s not be too harsh on Phelps. Despite his odd physique and big ears he attracted a beauty queen and fathered a child. Let’s see what he does with the rest of his life.

    • avatar
      Craig

      ….”Let’s not be too harsh on Phelps” “…his odd physique and big ears” Lady he has a swimmer’s body. Do you even have a sense of reality? Or are you some recluse/shut-in that is devoid of rational thought? Your above statement is completely erroneous. Michael has had to overcome MANY obstacles over the period of his life. He has learning difficulties, his family issues at a young age. You probably don’t know what it is to be an athlete. You sound like a bitter woman.

      • avatar
        Laurie

        Craig:

        i was trying to say exactly what you are saying but obviously didn’t express myself clearly. I referred to his physique because it was mentioned previously. I don’t think that he is entirely lucky (despite his wealth and multiple medales) because as you say he had family issues, but I admire his drive and his willingness to commit himself to a relationship and explore a future outside of swimming. Some athletes don’t get a second act due to concussions and other injuries. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to work up until retirement age (65) and think athletes deserve high salaries because of their physical risk and aging out of the career. Is that any clearer. I am not bitter, just a non-athlete who enjoys watching the olympics.

    • avatar
      Caitlin Garrison

      So, let me get this straight. You don’t believe swimmers have injuries that can end their careers? Example: Phelps sister Whitney. Also, look up the term “pars fracture” which is an injury that Phelps had. Swimming also has a boatload of shoulder injuries. You need to do your homework. And its “medals” not “medals”. You don’t know a whole lot about elite cycling either if you really think that the “machine” does the work and they can do it into an “advanced age”. Really!?

  13. avatar
    Jim B

    A very well written article about the greatest Olympian of all time. Too bad your final commentary shows the world what a hypocritical POS you really are.

  14. avatar
    Jerry Goodyear

    Phelps is the greatest of all time. Doesn’t matter what you think about his personality. His work-ethic is second to none. He is the star of the show. Everything is about Phelps. Even Lochte is riding the Phelps band wagon like a superfan to get some press “guaranteeing” that Phelps will be back in 2020. Lochte’s press is all about Phelps. The press does not even care about Lochte anymore, and you can see how Lochte always talks about Phelps in all of his interviews because even he knows that’s who people are focused on. You can hate on Phelps all you want, but he’s one heck of an athlete.

  15. avatar
    marklewis

    If you watched his long interview with Bob Costas, you’ll see Phelps has issues with his mental and emotional health.

    He was binge drinking, got DUIs and went to rehab and cried his eyes out. He was severely depressed.

    What role did being solely focus on competitive swimming have on his life?

    He’s not really such as great “role model.”

    Maybe he’s more of a “cautionary tale.”

    • avatar
      Pau Hana

      What you’ll see, actually, is that he had these issues and seems to have turned himself around. I always felt the Phelps of 04-12 was a bit of a jerk, but he impressed me as having grown up considerably in the past few years. Cleaning up, improving diet, and having a family seems to have changed him.

    • avatar
      Your Judge

      Hey Mark…you ever make mistakes Mark? You judge people much Mark? Do you have a superiority complex Mark? Like it or not…. Mark …. Michael Phelps IS a role model for young people. Maybe what he has gone through is a “cautionary tale” for those youngsters. Phelps has proven that even people with learning difficulties/handicaps, can achieve greatness. Is that what you were trying to convey Mark? Or were you just trolling. Nothing funny about people with mental issues Mark.

  16. avatar
    Judith Royston

    Phelps is a human being. He has ups and downs/ They are just more extreme than most of ours. I have taken joy in his successes and ache for his failures. Still he came back with modesty from his failure and has given us success as Americans. I only hope he is able to find a path forward in his live that will bring him personal fulfillment. What comes next in his life is none of our business. Never the less, it has been terrific watching him this week I am happy for him and for the USA.

  17. avatar
    Shawn

    Who can say they navigated thru their twenties with no issues or hiccups?! MP has barely started his 30’s and has been under intense worldwide scrutiny since he was a teen! He’s made an admiral return to the top of his game even so.

  18. avatar
    Ronald Hehn

    3 Words: Dude. Not. Cool.

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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