Michael Phelps’ Little Dream Turns Out Pretty Cool

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports


Editorial Coverage Sponsored By FINIS

By David Rieder.

Adam Peaty was coming home hard. Cody Miller knew the British breaststroke star would be on his horse, even with the huge lead Ryan Murphy had spotted the Americans. And Peaty did pass Miller, splitting a 56.59 on the breaststroke leg—and ensuring that Michael Phelps would dive into the water for the final swim of his career with a deficit to make up.

Swimming two more laps of butterfly, the first stroke that introduced the world to Phelps 16 years ago, Phelps quickly passed British butterflyer James Guy. Ironically, the perfectionist Phelps chopped the turn in his last race, but he more than made up for that with his typical underwater dolphin kick excellence—the same skill that netted Phelps so many Olympic gold medals, World titles and world records over the years.

50.33 seconds later, it was all over as Phelps handed Nathan Adrian a lead of four tenths of a second. Adrian sped off and pulled away from Great Britain, while all Phelps could do was swim to the side of the pool, climb out and cheer.

When Adrian touched, an exuberant Phelps embraced Murphy, Miller and Adrian. He informed the trio that racing with them had been an honor, and then he bent over at the waste and stared at the ground, his mind racing with a flood of emotions.

Such had been the entire day for the greatest of all time.

“Really just walking into the pool tonight, I think everything just started coming out,” Phelps said. “Walking up the warmup pool deck, I started to get choked up, thinking, ‘That’s it.’ Definitely a lot more emotional than I was in 2012.”

After those London Games, of course, Phelps retired and vowed never to return. But as the months drifted by, his tone shifted from “definitely not,” to “probably not,” and then to “maybe.” And sure enough, in April of 2014, back into competition Phelps dove.

There was unfinished business after Phelps admittedly loafed into London and just wanted to be done. Phelps would be 31 years old when the Rio Olympics rolled around, but he knew there was more to give. Including himself.

“I think the biggest thing that’s changed is, you guys are seeing me,” he said. “You might never have seen that before.”

In the pool, Phelps was as dominant as ever. He finishes the Rio Games with five more gold medals, including a fourth-straight title in the 200 IM and a return to the top of the podium in the event about which he cared the most, the 200 fly.

Out of the pool, Phelps was reflective and appreciative.

“I can look back and my career and say we’ve been able to accomplish everything I wanted,” Phelps said. “It’s been a challenge getting back to this point, but this is the cherry on top of the cake that I wanted. Couldn’t be happier with how this ended.”

As Phelps came to grips with the fact that he had raced in a USA cap for the final time, the crowd stood up and roared—and it wasn’t for the hometown Brazilian squad that had finished sixth. Phelps raised his arms to the stands and took it all in.

The 14,000 fans in attendance at the Olympic Aquatic Center were recognizing the many amazing athletic accomplishments that Phelps had recorded in his career, and they were thanking him—for the great memories, yes, but also for the courage to seek his ultimate goal and his success in achieving it.

“This all started and began with one little dream as a kid to change the sport of swimming, try to do something nobody has ever done,” Phelps said. “It turned out pretty cool.”

For proof of that legacy that Phelps leaves behind, just ask the men who have shared the blocks with him these past few days.

“It’s only fitting to idolize someone like that,” said Joseph Schooling, who beat out Phelps for gold in the 100 fly. “If it wasn’t for Michael, I don’t think I could have gotten to this point. I wanted to be like him as a kid.”

Then there was Murphy, who showed Phelps a picture of the two from Phelps’ Swim with the Stars tour in the aftermath of his second Olympics in Athens. Phelps was 19 years old at the time, and Murphy just nine.

And then tonight, Murphy started out Phelps’ last race by putting his own mark in the record books, taking down Aaron Peirsol’s seven-year-old world record in the men’s 100 back.

“I didn’t really get choked up for either of my individual wins, but that last relay and the way it unfolded, I think I was definitely tearing up a little bit on the walk over to the medal ceremony,” Murphy said. “That’s something I’ve been gunning for for a while, and to do it in one of the most-watched races in history—being Michael’s last race—that’s something I’m going to cherish forever.”

Murphy and others on this American team watched Phelps closely and wanted to be just like him—and they got lucky enough to swim with him. Those that idolized what they saw in 2008, 2012 and even these 2016 Games will never take to the blocks in a medley relay with Phelps, but they, too, will owe him thanks.

“He’s opened a lot of doors for all of us,” Murphy said. “No matter what country you swim for, you’re indebted to Michael Phelps.”

Two hours after his last race was done, Phelps finally came to the press conference room, clearly emotionally drained from the week. When asked if he could wrap his head around everything, Phelps could hardly answer.

“No. No.” Phelps paused. “I honestly don’t know when I will. Every day this week, I’ve said to Bob, ‘Really?’ It’s insane.”

In the midst of an answer, Phelps stopped and picked up cell phone a reporter had placed in front of him to record the press conference. The reporter was getting texts from a friend commenting on Phelps’ performance.

“I think his name is Patrick,” Phelps said. “I don’t want to say his last name.”

Phelps finally finished up in the press room at 1:30 a.m. local time, groaning that his stomach hurt because he was hungry but eager to catch up with fiancée Nicole Johnson and son Boomer—who Phelps admitted might be allowed to take one of his gold medals to school for show and tell… eventually.

For now, though, Phelps is just ready to enjoy retirement. But this time, not because of spite for the sport. His goals in the sport are accomplished. All that’s left, his blossoming life with Nicole and Boomer.

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