Record Olympic medal-winner Michael Phelps ended the last individual race of his career the way he’ll be remembered: as a winner.
The American yesterday captured the 100-meter butterfly title, taking his 17th Olympic gold medal and last one in an individual swimming event. It was the 21st medal overall for Phelps, who also won the event in Athens and Beijing. He’ll swim the last race of his Olympic career today in the 400-meter medley relay.
“It’s a big race for our country,” Phelps said in a news conference. “It’s the last night, the very last day, on the eighth day, and we’re excited.”
Phelps, 27, has helped push the U.S. to the top of the medal standings in London. The Americans have 43 medals, 21 of them gold. China is second with 42 medals, including 20 golds.
Phelps has said the London Olympics, his fourth, will be his last. He’s retiring after today’s race, having made his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old at the 2000 Games in Sydney.
Four years ago in Beijing, Phelps swam the third leg in the men’s 400-meter medley relay and then cheered from the pool deck at the Water Cube as teammate Jason Lezak finished off the race for the U.S. in world-record time.
“Being part of the U.S. relay team was a goal of mine a long time ago,” Phelps said yesterday.
In Beijing, American swimmers won a total of 31 medals, including 12 golds. In London, the U.S. so far has 28 medals, half of which are gold, with four events remaining.
Phelps has been sharing the spotlight at the London Olympics with some of his younger teammates.
Missy Franklin, 17, a Colorado high school senior who describes Phelps as her mentor, completed a backstroke sweep, winning the 200 meters in world-record time yesterday, adding it to the 100-meter title she earned earlier in the meet. A third American, Katie Ledecky, 15, the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic swimming team, captured the 800-meter freestyle crown.
The only non-U.S. gold medal in the pool yesterday was won by Florent Manaudou, 21, a first-time Olympian from France, who sprinted to victory in the 50-meter freestyle final ahead of Cullen Jones of the U.S. Brazil’s Cesar Cielo, who hadn’t been beaten over 50 meters at a major international meet in four years, failed to defend the title he won in Beijing and finished third.
Phelps won six gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics and followed that with a record eight in Beijing four years ago. He’s now earned three gold medals and two silvers in London.
Phelps hasn’t given much thought to retirement yet, he said.
“I thought it would hit me harder than what it is right now,” he said. “A lot of those emotions haven’t really come through my brain in the last week. Once I’m done, there’s going to be a lot more emotion. I’m kind of in a meet mode. You have 15 or 16 sessions, you start and then you finish and then it’s over.”