RIO DE JANEIRO, BR- The most accomplished athlete in the history of the Olympics just added another chapter to his legacy.
With an absurd second leg in his portion of the Men’s 4×100 Freestyle Relay, Phelps gave Team USA a lead they would hold all the way through to the Gold Medal. America’s Olympic flag-bearer raced the third portion of the relay, and surged into the front of the pack after letting lesser swimmers from France and Australia think they actually had a chance at victory. The resident aquaman of the United States surfaced a full 2.5 seconds after the Frenchman who held first place after the first leg. France would finish with the Silver.
It was business as usual for the most decorated Olympian ever, with the freestyle netting him his 19th Gold Medal, and 23rd Medal overall. This time around though, the top of the podium must be a special sensation for the face of Team USA, since Michael Phelps wasn’t even supposed to be here. It might be hard to believe now, but the most lauded athlete who ever set foot in a swimming pool was retired for two years.
Phelps called it a career after the London Olympics in 2012, ending his run at 27 after passing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina’s world record haul of 18 medals. The years following his perfect run of Olympic gold in Beijing were something of a low period in the swimmer’s life, from the outside it seemed clear the pressure of almost unfathomable fame was getting to him. The infamous bong photo, a split with his girlfriend, a DUI arrest and two separate suspensions from 2009 to 2014 would have been enough controversy for any athlete, let alone one as world-renowned as Phelps.
By his own admission Michael Phelps didn’t prepare before London, and even four gold medals couldn’t stop him from quitting out of sheer disillusionment with his life. “Prior to London, I hated it,” Phelps told Bob Costas in an interview for NBC Sports, “I wanted nothing to do with the sport. I was pushing so many people away, and I just wanted it to be over.”
Phelps sank into what he called “the darkest place you could imagine” during his retirement. Without his legendary training regimen, the Olympian put on almost 50 pounds, falling into a depression so consuming he thought about killing himself. According to his own testimony on the subject, “rock bottom” came following his 2014 DUI arrest, Phelps’ second in less than 10 years:
“There were thoughts where I was like, ‘How would I do it?’ But I knew I never could. Because I knew I would hurt so many people. Me included. The thoughts were there. They were there really heavy. I kind of just start making some progress. I just decided something had to change.”
Phelps’ redemption tour has been in full swing ever since he returned from his sixth month suspension in 2015. With the kind of passion the world hasn’t seen from the swimmer since 2008, his most recent medal represents more of a spiritual victory than anything. At the risk of sounding corny, the man is more than a couple lengths ahead of his demons these days, and that resurgence has given the world something to truly behold. For one last Olympics, we will witness the 31-year-old Michael Phelps do his thing.
Even though the man has more experiences behind him than ever before, any time a camera comes his way these days, the most decorated Olympic athlete the world has ever seen seems jubilant as ever. Michael Phelps is just another kid, doing what he loves and leaving the rest to history.
Featured Image: Michael Phelps Swimming in Beijing in 2008, Source: Flickr, thaines
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