Feature

Michael Phelps: The man who dominated the Olympic pool like no other

The legendary American swimmer won 28 medals across five Olympics, making him the most decorated athlete in the history of the Summer Games.

By Rahul Venkat ·

It is a name that resonates around the world, even among people who may not be fans of sport.

Michael Phelps, arguably the best swimmer in history, is regarded as one of the greatest athletes of all time, not just due to his record-breaking feats, but also due to the longevity of his career.

Born on June 30, 1985, in Baltimore, Maryland, Phelps took to swimming at the age of seven. He trained with coach Bob Bowman at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club and quickly broke multiple age-group records.

His large frame, broad shoulders and big feet, which act like fins in the water, made his body the perfect fit for swimming.

So much that Phelps won the highest number of medals in the entire Olympics - 28 medals across five Summer Games.

Michael Phelps’ Olympics medals tally consists of 23 gold medals – the most Olympic gold medals ever won - three silver and two bronze medals.

Here, we take a look at Phelps’ incredible medal performances in each of the Olympics he took part in:

Athens 2004

Michael Phelps was only 15 when he made the American swimming Olympics team for Sydney 2000. He finished just fifth in the 200-metre butterfly final but he would win golds four years later.

The 400m individual medley at Athens 2004 gave Phelps his first Olympic gold medal and his time of 4:08.26 made him the then-world record holder, which was three seconds faster than his second-placed compatriot Erik Vendt.

Michael Phelps celebrates his first Olympic gold medal at Athens 2004.

Bronze in the 4x100 m freestyle and 200m freestyle followed in the next two days before Phelps reached the top step again in the 200-metre butterfly in an Olympic record time of 1:54.04.

In the 4x200m freestyle relay, his second team event, Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay and Klete Keller became gold medalists before Phelps won two more golds - the 200-metre individual medley and 100-metre butterfly.

He then opted out of swimming in the 4x100m medley final, instead allowing Ian Crocker to swim. The American team duly won gold with a world record time of 3:30.68 but since Phelps had swum in the heats, he was also handed a gold medal.

Over the course of a week, the 19-year-old Michael Phelps had won five golds and two bronze, his seven-medal haul making it the second biggest in Olympic history behind Mark Spitz, who had won seven golds at Munich 1972.

Phelps would go on to beat that in four years’ time.

Athens 2004 Medal Haul: Five golds, two bronze

Beijing 2008

The swimming pools at the Beijing National Aquatics Centre played host to the American swimming legend’s consumate Olympic performance.

How many gold medals did Michael Phelps win you ask? Well, the answer is eight, each of them in either world or Olympic record time, and it also broke Mark Spitz’s 36-year record for most gold medals in a single Olympics.

He ended up winning gold medals in the 400-metre individual medley, 200-metre freestyle, 100-metre butterfly, 200-metre butterfly, 200-metre medley, 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley.

He broke his own world records in the first categories while setting new ones in every other category except the 100-metre butterfly.

However, Phelps swam the 100-metre butterfly in an Olympic record time to become the first swimmer to defend an Olympic butterfly title. It also brought his seventh gold at Beijing 2008, which took him level with Mark Spitz then.

Phelps went on to break that long-standing record with an incredible eighth gold medal of the Olympics in the 4x100m medley relay as teammates Brendan Hansen, Aaron Peirsol and Jason Lezak helped deliver it in a world record time of 3:29.34, breaking their existing record by more than a second.

Michael Phelps, already a great after the 2004 Olympics, had now truly etched his name in the annals of history.

Beijing 2008 Medal Haul: Eight golds

Phelps conquers all in Beijing

Michael Phelps breaks seven world records in winning eight swimming golds d...

London 2012

In contrast to his other Olympics appearances, London 2012 did not start off with a medal for Michael Phelps. In fact, his first gold medal came in the fourth event he participated in.

He finished fourth in the 400-metre individual medley, the first time he had missed out on any medal since 2000.

He was consigned to silver medals in the 200-metre butterfly by South African swimmer Chad le Clos and 4x100m freestyle relay by the French team.

The American swimmer won his first gold at the 2012 Olympics in the 4x200m freestyle relay and followed it up with another in the 200-metre individual medley, beating compatriot Ryan Lochte.

At this point, Phelps had won 19 Olympic medals, one more than gymnast Larisa Latynina, and became the all-time record holder of most Olympic medals won.

Michael Phelps’ gold in the 200-metre individual medley made him the most successful athlete in Olympic history.

He wasn’t done yet.  

Phelps returned to the pool to win two more golds – in the 100-metre butterfly and 4x100m medley to end with six medals at the event, making him the most successful swimmer for the third Olympics in a row.

He announced his retirement after the 2012 Olympics, claiming that he was ‘done with the sport’.

There was one final twist in the tale for the decorated Olympian though.

London 2012 Medal Haul: Four golds, two silvers

Rio 2016

The allure of the water proved too tempting for Michael Phelps and the American legend announced in April 2014 that he would make a return to the pool. The motivation now was to just swim for himself and not train specifically for any glory.

However, you cannot quite keep Phelps away from medals, as was proved at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The 4x100m freestyle relay brought Phelps his first gold medal at Rio 2016. The 200-meter butterfly and 200-metre individual medley brought two more solo gold medals.

Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and Ryan Lochte played their part in delivering yet another gold medal for Phelps in the 4x200m freestyle relay.

Phelps’ final individual event at the Olympics did not end with a customary gold, as he was beaten in the 100-meter butterfly by Singapore’s Joseph Schooling to end up with silver.

Michael Phelps ended his career with team gold in the 4x100m medley relay at Rio 2016.

However, in quite the perfect way to end his swimming career, Michael Phelps won gold in the 4x100m medley along with Ryan Murphy, Cody Miller and Nathan Adrian with the American team breaking the Olympic record with a 3:27.95.

It brought the curtains on a terrific career for Michael Phelps, who had won six more medals at 31 years old, when most swimmers are well into retirement.

Phelps is undoubtedly one of the greatest Olympians of all time.

Rio 2016 Medal haul: Five golds, one silver