Rio De Janeiro: Michael Phelps closed out his Rio Olympics in the only way imaginable with gold.
Phelps put the United States ahead to stay on the butterfly leg of the 4×100-metre medley relay and Nathan Adrian finished it off, giving the most decorated athlete in Olympic history his 23rd career gold medal on Saturday night. If that was the end, and Phelps insists it is, what a way to go out. He has 28 medals overall, having won five golds and a silver at these games.
As Nathan Adrian touched the wall to finish off the victory, Phelps gathered the other relay swimmers, Ryan Murphy and Cody Miller, in his arms. One night after his only setback in Rio, an upset loss to Joseph Schooling in the 100 fly, Phelps was back on top. In the stands, his fiancee, Nicole Johnson, bounced along to the music with their son, three-month-old Boomer, cradled in her arms.
Phelps is eager to spend a lot more time with them. He plans to marry Johnson after the Olympics and said he’s eager to watch his son grow, maybe even dole out a swimming lesson or two. Most of the US swim team was in the stands to watch Phelps’ finale, including the biggest female star of the games, Katie Ledecky, decked out in a matching USA white jacket and cap.
The 19-year-old Ledecky joked that she was proud to be part of Phelps’ final Olympics twice. He initially retired after the 2012 London Olympics, only to decide about a year later to return to the pool. This time, the 31-year-old sounds much more adamant when he says there will be no more comebacks.
Two-time gold medallist Murphy put the Americans out front with a world-record split on the backstroke — it counts since he was leading off — but Britain surged ahead on the breaststroke with its own world-record holder, Adam Peaty. Phelps dove into the pool in second place. He wouldn’t be for long. On the return lap, Phelps powered through the water with his whirling butterfly stroke, surging ahead of James Guy to pass off a lead to the anchor Adrian.
It wasn’t in doubt after that. Adrian pulled away on the freestyle to win in an Olympic-record time of 3 minutes, 27.95 seconds. Britain held on for silver, with Australia nabbing bronze.
The victory came just minutes after the women’s medley relay gave the United States its 1,000th Olympic gold medal at the Summer Games. Kathleen Baker, Lilly King, Dana Vollmer and Simone Manuel led the American triumph. The winning time was 3:53.13. Australia earned silver, while Denmark took bronze. For Manuel, it was her second medal of the night — she also won silver in the 50 free — and second gold of the games. She became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic swimming title with her win in the 100 free.
Connor Jaeger gave the US another silver in the 1,500 free, leaving the Americans with 33 swimming medals in Rio — matching the highest total since the boycotted Los Angeles Games in 1984. The US also won 33 medals at Sydney in 2000.
The final two individual golds of the games went to Pernille Blume of Denmark in the 50 freestyle, her country’s first swimming victory since 1948, and Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri in the gruelling 1,500 free. After posting the top time in both the preliminaries and the semifinals, Blume came through again on the final night of swimming at the Rio Games. She finished in 24.07. After her landmark victory in the 100 free, Manuel settled for silver this time in 24.09. Aliaksandra Herasimenia of Belarus earned the bronze in 24.11.
It was another huge disappointment for sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell of Australia. They were shut out of an individual medal again, with Cate finishing fifth and Bronte seventh. Blume was the third Danish swimmer to capture a gold. Greta Andersen won the 100 free and Karen Margrethe Harup took the 100 backstroke at the 1948 London Olympics. Paltrinieri pulled away from the field and was under world-record pace much of the race before fading a bit at the end. Still, he won comfortably in 14:34.57.
Jaeger claimed silver in 14:39.48, while bronze went to another Italian, Gabriele Detti, in 14:40.86. Detti rallied over the final laps to pass American Jordan Wilimovksy, who settled for fourth. Wilimovksy will get another shot at a medal in an even more demanding event – the 10-kilometer open water race at Fort Copacabana on Tuesday. The night, though, belonged to Phelps. For the last time. Phelps said he’s all done. In the only way imaginable.