Michael Phelps’ eyes glistened, but no tears came. Not like his younger teammates, who had never won a medal like this before.
No, Phelps smiled and laughed, and he raised his fists in triumph. He’d done this 18 times before, let a gold medal fall against his chest as The Star-Spangled Banner played.
But even so, this 19th gold medal felt different. And special. It was the first one his son, Boomer, got to see, even though the 3-month-old most certainly won’t remember it.
Phelps, 31, turned in a terrific second leg of the Americans’ 4×100 freestyle relay, giving his teammates a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Fellow Olympic veteran Nathan Adrian held off the furious French to anchor the U.S. and clinch the Americans’ first gold medal in this event in a major international meet since 2009.
In a most exhilarating fashion, in front of a raucous crowd that had already witnessed three broken world records earlier Sunday night, the U.S. men earned an unexpected gold in their first Olympic relay of these Rio Games with a time of 3 minutes, 9.92 seconds. Caeleb Dressel led off with a strong 48.10-second leg, before the greatest Olympian of all time gave America its lead.
Ryan Held contributed the third leg, and a strong close by anchor Adrian in 46.97 secured victory. France took silver, and Australia came from behind to pass Russia for bronze.
“It felt good to get, after my last 400 free relay of my career, this thing around my neck,” Phelps said, glancing down and touching his gold medal. “It feels good to get it back.”
The U.S. men have medaled in every relay event in every Olympics in which they’ve competed. But, due to a rather embarrassing performance a year ago at the world championships in Kazan, Russia — in which a Phelps-less lineup did not even qualify for the final — that relay streak was in real jeopardy.
The world had done more than simply catch up to the American sprinters; it had surpassed them. The Aussies. The Russians. The French.
Yet the U.S. swim team would not give up one of its greatest sources of pride, its relay prowess, without a fight.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Nicole Auerbach