Michael Phelps offered another tour de force in his dream farewell to swimming, proving himself the all-round master of the pool with victory in the 200m individual medley to collect the 22nd Olympic gold medal of his career at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on 11 August.
The 31-year-old was in a different league to his opposition as he landed his fourth gold of the week in style, powering clear over the breaststroke and freestyle legs to prevail by nearly two seconds over his rivals. It was yet another extraordinary swim from Phelps, who has now won two individual and two relay golds at his fifth Olympics, two years after coming out of retirement.
By claiming gold, he becomes the first swimmer to win the same event at four consecutive Games, an achievement that places him in the same Olympic pantheon as fellow Americans Al Oerter in the discus and Carl Lewis in the long jump.
Phelps’ overall Olympic medal haul has now risen to 26, including two silvers and two bronzes, with the 100m butterfly final still to come on 12 August. Thirteen of his golds have come in individual races, the rest in relays.
Olympic historians said earlier this week that by winning the 200m individual medley to claim his 13th individual Olympic gold medal Phelps would surpass the achievements of runner Leonidas, who competed at the ancient Games between 164 and 152 BC and was previously the only athlete in recorded annals to have won 12 solo titles.
“I say this a lot, but every single day I’m living a dream come true,” said Phelps after his swim in a time of 1 min 54.66 secs, the fastest in the world this year. “As a kid I wanted to do something that no one had ever done before and I’m enjoying it. Being able to finish like this is just something very special to me and this is why you are seeing more and more emotion on the medal podium.”
Phelps said that having his family cheering him on from the stands inspired him as he added yet another golden moment to his brilliant career. “Every single time I come out I try to look up and see [my fiancée] Nicole, my mom, [my son] Boomer and the rest of my family. It brings tears to my eyes because I want to hold him and hang out with him more.”
He was lauded by the Rio crowd, with one banner proclaiming, “Phelps Greatest Olympian Ever”. At the medal ceremony he swayed slightly and breathed deeply, his eyes moist, as he listened to the US anthem.
Despite winning four golds in London in 2012, Phelps has said he was dissatisfied with his preparation and results there and wanted to bow out on his own terms at Rio 2016.
“The biggest thing for me through the meeting so far is that I’ve been able to kind of finish how I wanted to. I’ve been able to come back and accomplish things that I just dreamed of.”
The expected grand final duel between the sport’s most famous rivals fizzled out as Ryan Lochte (USA) faded to fifth while Brazil’s big hope in the pool, Thiago Pereira, came seventh after a storming start. Instead it was Japan’s 400m individual medley champion Kosuke Hagino who won silver and Wang Shun of China who took bronze, both moving dramatically through the field on the final length after turning in fifth and seventh place.
Pereira went off fastest at the start, leading from Phelps after the butterfly leg, with Lochte and Hagino neck-and-neck just behind. With the Rio crowd’s excitement mounting, the three turned almost together after the backstroke, with Lochte just 0.01 seconds ahead. Phelps led from Pereira and Lochte at the final turn and powered on as the other two faded, opening the way for Hagino and Wang to complete the podium positions.