Rio de Janeiro – Earlier this week, Michael Phelps created “Phelps Face,” a cartoonishly angry glare he leveled at an Australian swimmer who dared to shadowbox in the swimmer’s pre-race call room.
Phelps topped himself, in more than one way, on Thursday. He sped away from the field to win gold in the 200-meter individual medley, giving him 22 Olympic gold medals. No other athlete has won more than nine.
Then he took the top step of the podium and “Phelps Face” had a new meaning, as perhaps the greatest Olympic athlete ever tried to suppress tears as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played.
“This has been a very special week for me, to close out my career,” Phelps said.
The most dramatic moment of the night might have been delivered by a woman from Houston named Simone whose last name is not Biles. Simone Manuel put on a stunning sprint to tie with Canadian Penny Oleksiak for an Olympic record and gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle. Manuel is the first black woman from the United States to win a gold medal in an individual swimming event.
“I definitely think it raises some awareness,” Manuel said. “The gold medal wasn’t just for me. It was for people who came before me and inspired me to stay in this sport, and for people who believe they can’t do it.
“I hope I’m an inspiration for others to get out there and try swimming. You might be pretty good at it.”
On Friday night, Phelps will compete in his last individual Olympic event. On Thursday, he raced his longtime friend and rival Ryan Lochte for the last time, at least in these Games.
Phelps is 31. Lochte is 32. In London, it would not have been illogical to guess their rivalry was over or close to it, and yet on Thursday night in Rio, in what has to be their last Olympics, they dueled again.
They swam in the two middle lanes. Phelps gradually built a lead before accelerating away on the final leg, while Lochte fell to fifth.
Phelps won gold and Lochte silver in London in the 200IM. In Beijing, Phelps won and Lochte took third. The two of them hold the 15 fastest times in the event’s history.
“Nothing he does anymore surprises me,” Lochte said.
Somehow, Phelps is dominating again. He won a gold medal in the 4x100 and 4x200 freestyle relays. He won gold in the 200 butterfly.
Lochte won a gold medal in the 400 IM in London but did not qualify in that event in Rio. He contributed to the 4x200 relay gold medal but is competing in only one individual event in Rio.
After winning another gold and hearing another anthem, Phelps qualified for the finals in the 100-meter butterfly, meaning there might be more American dominance ahead.
Phelps’ replacement as the most dominant swimmer in the world might be another U.S. athlete who competed on Thursday. Katie Ledecky set a record in the 800-meter freestyle in the preliminaries and will compete for a fourth gold medal in these games on Friday.
Gophers swimmer Kierra Smith, competing for Canada, finished seventh in the 200-meter breaststroke.
Missy Franklin, who won four gold medals for the U.S. in London, failed to make the final of the 200-meter backstroke, meaning she will not medal as an individual in these Olympics.
America’s Ryan Murphy won the 200-meter backstroke.
It was another historic night for American swimming, with Phelps continuing his dominance, and Manuel making history.