Gold No 23 for Phelps but might he be tempted by 25?

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - RIO 2016 SWIMMING - By Daniel Schofield

Al­ways leave them want­ing more. Like any great show­man, Michael Phelps timed his exit to per­fec­tion here at Rio by claim­ing Olympic gold medal No 23, the shirt num­ber of his idol Michael Jor­dan, and the fifth of th­ese Games in the men’s med­ley re­lay on Satur­day night. As Bob Bow­man, his long term-coach, put it there will never be another Phelps, “he’s too spe­cial”.

The scale of his achieve­ments need some pro­cess­ing. The 31-yearold has taken a chain­saw to a for­est of records. Most dec­o­rated Olympian, most golds, most medals, 39 world records, only swim­mer to have won the same event in four Olympics; even Leonidas of Rhodes’s 2,000-year record of win­ning 12 in­di­vid­ual ti­tles was felled.

“I hon­estly don’t know when I will get my head around it,” Phelps said. “It’s in­sane. This all started with one lit­tle dream as a kid to change the sport of swim­ming and try to do some­thing no one else has done. It is pretty cool. I have lived a dream come true.

“Be­ing able to look back at my ca­reer and say that we have been able to ac­com­plish ev­ery­thing we wanted. It’s been a chal­lenge get­ting back to this point but this is the cherry on top of the cake that I wanted. I couldn’t be hap­pier.”

Al­though he has em­pha­sised over and over again that this would be his last com­pet­i­tive race, his protes­ta­tions are fall­ing on deaf ears. Bri­tain’s James Guy, who swam the fi­nal but­ter­fly leg in the lane next to Phelps, said: “I think he wants 25 golds and he’s got 23. I think he’ll want two more.”

Of course, there is good rea­son for such scep­ti­cism. Near iden­ti­cal prom­ises were made at Lon­don 2012 and duly bro­ken. The dif­fer­ence this time is that Phelps is at peace with him­self. Whereas four years ago his de­feat by Chad le Clos in the 200 me­tres but­ter­fly gnawed away at him, this time he hap­pily ac­cepted stand­ing on the sec­ond rung of the podium hand in hand with Le Clos and Las­zlo Cseh af­ter his three­way tie in the 100m but­ter­fly.

So the man who has changed the face of the sport has gone, but Phelps says oth­ers will be­come new stan­dard-bear­ers.

“You have got a lot of ex­cit­ing swim­mers out there,” Phelps said. “You have peo­ple like Katie Ledecky, Adam Peaty and [Ryan] Mur­phy from all over the world. That’s some­thing that’s in­cred­i­ble about the sport.” Ledecky seems like­li­est to claim his man­tle. The 19-year-old be­came the first woman in 48 years to sweep the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle events as well as claim­ing a gold and sil­ver in the re­lays. Yet she will be just another stu­dent when she en­rols at Stan­ford Univer­sity, for­go­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of earn­ing mil­lions from turn­ing professional. “I’m only 19,” Ledecky said. “I think down the road, I would love to be a pro swim­mer. But first and fore­most, I want to get a re­ally great ed­u­ca­tion and have the op­por­tu­ni­ties that col­le­giate swim­ming brings.”

Hand on heart: Phelps’s last gold

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