Olympics: Phelps going out in style
By Paul Newberry
LONDON — Michael Phelps is turning his final Olympics into quite a victory lap, and don’t fret about American swimming after he’s gone.
Led by a pair of high schoolers, the post-Phelps era will be in very good hands.
In what amounted to a symbolic changing of the guard Friday, Phelps claimed the 17th gold medal of a career that has just 24 hours to go — on the same night one teenager, Missy Franklin, broke a world record in the backstroke and another, Katie Ledecky, took down a hallowed American 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.”
His long arms whirling through the water, Phelps was seventh at the turn in 100-meter butterfly — 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, and it’s almost certain he’ll take home one more gold Saturday.
That’s a relay.
This was the final race he’ll do alone.
“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 anyone else. “That’s all I really wanted coming into the night.”
He’ll finish up swimming the butterfly leg of 4×100 medley relay, an event the U.S. men have never lost. That streak should carry right on with the Americans 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).
It’s unfathomable to think the Phelps era could end with anything less than a performance that puts him atop the podium one last time, gold medal No. 18 around his neck.
“I don’t think Michael is going to let anything go wrong in that race,” said Eric Shanteau, who swam the relay for the U.S. in the prelims.
No one has dominated like Phelps, who increased his career overall medal total to 21.
“He’s the king of the Olympics Games,” said his butterfly rival, Serbia’s Milorad Cavic.
Even though Phelps didn’t go as fast in the final as he did in the semifinals, he actually won by a relatively comfortable margin compared to his two previous Olympic wins in the 100 fly: four-hundredths of a second over Ian Crocker in 2004, then one-hundredth of a second — the closest race possible — against Cavic at the Beijing Games four years ago.
That was the victory that kept Phelps on course to win a historic eight gold medals in China.
This was about going out in style.
Phelps slammed the wall in 51.21 seconds for payback against the guy who edged him in the 200 fly, Chad le Clos of South Africa. No gliding into this finish, the move that cost Phelps the gold in their first meeting.
“My start of the meet wasn’t what we wanted, but I seemed to pick up some steam at the end of the meet,” Phelps said.
He’s 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 to break 27, and three guys couldn’t go under 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 and once tomorrow is over, I think there’s going to be a lot more emotion that really comes out.”
Le Clos finished in 51.44, patting Phelps on the shoulder after tying for silver with Russia’s Evgeny Korotyshkin. Cavic tied for fourth in 51.81, not even close to Phelps in their final meeting.
“I cannot be compared to Michael Phelps,” said Cavic, who also plans to retire after the London Games. “I’m a one-trick pony.”