One more race. Two more laps. And, in all likelihood, an 18th gold medal for Michael Phelps.
His final Olympics is turning into quite a victory lap.
Phelps was to wrap up his swimming career yesterday with the butterfly leg of 4x100m medley relay, an event the US men have never lost. That streak should carry right on with the US sending out an imposing quartet that includes three gold medalists (Phelps, freestyler Nathan Adrian and backstroker Matt Grevers), plus a guy who won bronze (breaststroker Brendan Hansen).
“I don’t think Michael is going to let anything go wrong in that race,” said Eric Shanteau, who swam on the US relay in Friday’s preliminaries.
Indeed, it is unfathomable to think the Phelps era could end with anything less than a performance that puts him atop the podium one last time, with yet another gold medal around his neck.
He picked up his 17th gold on Friday in his final individual race, the 100m butterfly, making the turn in seventh, but rallying for a victory that was actually much more comfortable than his margin in the last two Olympics — a combined 0.05 of a second.
Phelps slammed the wall in 51.21 seconds for payback against the guy who edged him in the 200m fly, Chad le Clos of South Africa. No gliding into this finish, the move that cost Phelps the gold in their first meeting.
“I’m just happy that the last one was a win,” said Phelps, who will likely fade into retirement with twice as many golds as any other Olympian. “That’s all I really wanted coming into the night.”
He is still in race mode, at least for one more day. Phelps covered the final 50 in 26.86. Le Clos was the only other swimmer able to go under 27, and three failed to break 28.
“I thought it would hit me a lot harder than what it is right now,” Phelps said. “I guess a lot of those emotions haven’t really come through my brain over the last week.”
“Once I’m done,” he added, “I think there’s going to be a lot more emotion that really comes out.”
A pair of high-school students on Friday showed that the post-Phelps era will be in good hands.
In what amounted to a symbolic changing of the guard, Phelps’ victory in the 100m fly was sandwiched between 17-year-old Missy Franklin breaking a world record in the backstroke and 15-year-old Katie Ledecky taking down a hallowed US mark that was set nearly eight years before she was born.
“This has sort of turned into the youth Olympics,” Franklin said. “There’s so many members of the team that are coming up this year that are going to carry on this incredible generation.”
No one is more incredible than Phelps.
It always takes him a while to get up to speed, but he brought it home like a champion. That, in a sense, sums up his Olympics farewell. He got off to a sluggish start, but has three victories in the past four days, giving him 21 medals overall.
“He has made a world of difference for swimming,” said Franklin, who captured her third gold of the London Games. “It’s helped people rethink the impossible.”