Today is a sad day for any Olympics fan. Last night was the final night of swimming events for the 2016 Rio Olympics and quite possibly the last competitive swim in the historic career of Michael Phelps. The swimming schedule came to a close with both the men’s and women’s 4x100m Medley Relay where the United States, as expected, claimed a pair of gold medals. The two golds brought the American medal count for Rio swimmers to 33 with 16 of those being gold. When the American women won gold in their relay last night, it was the 1,000th gold medal for the USA in the history of the Summer Olympics. It always seems like swimming is front and center every four years in more ways than one.
Of course, nobody is more prominent than the greatest of all-time: Michael Phelps. In these Olympics, Phelps competed in six events and came away with five gold medals and one silver. He now has 23 golds, three silvers and a pair of bronzes; 28 medals for the most decorated American Olympian ever. Most of Phelps’ finals were relatively comfortable wins, but as always there were a few that really made headlines. There are always two events involving Phelps that seem to be bigger than all the others. The first is the 4x100m Freestyle Relay where the Americans always seem to get a run for their money, most notably from France.
There was perhaps no greater race in Olympic history than the 2008 4x100m Freestyle Relay in Beijing where Jason Lezak chased down Alain Bernard of France to win gold and propel Phelps to his record-breaking eight gold medals of those games.
After winning that gold in 2008 it was France’s turn to pull off the gigantic upset in 2012. This year Phelps was the second leg of the relay and turned in a huge split (47.12s) along with anchor Nathan Adrian (46.79s) – who won two golds and two bronzes himself – to bring the title back to American soil. That loss in London was one of the things that fueled Phelps’ return to these games, but it was also his loss to South African Chad Le Clos in the 200m Butterfly in 2012 that made him eager to return. The 200m fly is Michael Phelps’ bread and butter. It’s his race. And he lost. He came to Rio with many goals, but none more than to re-take his crown in that all important event. Well, it definitely didn’t come easy. Before the semifinals even started, Phelps made headlines with his angry face seemingly directed at Le Clos.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 9, 2016
The face immediately became a meme sensation all over the Internet and the stage was set for the finals the following night. Phelps won gold, re-took his crown and Le Clos was kept off the podium. Talk about a dramatic turn of events. Then oddly enough, a few nights later in the 100m Butterfly there would be one of the most interesting results you’ll see. Joseph Schooling of Singapore would win gold easily, but it’s the silver medal that most people will remember. That silver medal went to Michael Phelps… and Chad Le Clos… and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. Yep, a three way tie for second between three swimmers who will be connected to each other until the end of time. Cseh, if you’re not familiar with him, always would finish second to Phelps and is a really terrific swimmer. He just had the unfortunate timing of being in his athletic prime at the same time of the greatest to ever swim. Those three tying for a medal is the most Olympic thing to ever happen at the Olympics.
And that was it for swimming drama HAHA JUST KIDDING. Swimming rivalries just come naturally and they’re amazing. Lilly King, a 19-year-old American breaststroker, didn’t hold anything back when it came to Yulia Efimova of Russia. Efimova was lucky to even be allowed to swim at the Olympics after being caught for drug cheating. The night of the semis for the 100m Breaststroke, Efimova was in the first heat and won it. She then held up her finger to signal that she was #1. Lilly King was having none of it. NBC showed her watching the race on a monitor in the waiting area and countering Efimova’s finger with one of her own. No, not that one. She shook her index finger like Dikembe Mutombo saying not on my watch. King went on to win her semi and then take down Efimova in the final the following night. When she was interviewed following the races, she didn’t back down from her feelings. She said point blank how she felt about Efimova and cheaters in general. She’s the hero we all need.
Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Katie Ledecky – the most dominant swimmer in the world not named Phelps. In fact, she has an argument for being even more dominant than Phelps. She burst onto the scene in London as a 15-year-old and came into Rio as one of the most notable athletes competing. All she did is come away with four gold medals and one silver. Ledecky still hasn’t lost an individual final of an international race. That’s just insane. Of her four golds, there was none more impressive than the 800m Freestyle. She was the favorite going into the race and all Ledecky did was win by, wait for it, ELEVEN SECONDS. ELEVEN. HOW?! Ledecky is the best, knows she’s the best, and somehow is able to stay drama free both in and out of the pool. That’s pretty remarkable.
Katie Ledecky, pictured with the 7 next best swimmers in the world. pic.twitter.com/3C08xu9DL7
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) August 13, 2016
Swimming at the Olympics, in my opinion, is the best. You have the big names as always, but there’s more to it than that. There’s Simone Manuel winning the first individual gold medal for an African-American female swimmer as she tied with 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in a really sweet moment for the neighboring countries. Manuel picked up another gold along the way as well as a pair of silvers. There’s Ryan Murphy who swept the backstroke events AND set a world record in the 100m backstroke during the Medley Relay. There’s Maya Dirado, 23, who says this is her first and last Olympics – we’ll see about that – who went from relative obscurity to win two golds, a silver and a bronze. It’s not just American swimmers either. I love great athletes and Katinka Hosszu was fantastic. The Hungarian backstroke specialist won three gold medals in DOMINANT fashion, as well as a silver medal in the 200m Backstroke thanks to Dirado, and she was so much fun to watch. Also, her husband/coach’s reactions to her wins/loss on the sideline was priceless. #goals
Seriously, there’s nothing better than swimming at the Summer Olympics. I love each and every sport, but there’s nothing like swimming. It has everything you want: drama, excitement, stars, etc. The best part about swimming is that it’s ALWAYS shown live. ALWAYS. Unlike other big primetime sports such as gymnastics, the finals of each swimming event are televised live by NBC. You never have to worry about when NBC is going to decide to air the race. You never have to worry about it being bumped to late night if the Americans don’t do well (see: Men’s Gymnastics Team Final). You also never have to worry about spoilers on the Internet during the day like you do with gymnastics.
It’s live, it’s entertaining, it’s unpredictable and as an American it’s golden.