Michael Phelps is heading back to the Olympics.
So is Missy Franklin.
Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, held off a stiff challenge from Tom Shields to win the 200-meter butterfly at the U.S. swimming trials Wednesday night. Phelps whipped around to look at his time — a bit slower than he probably would’ve liked — and held up all five fingers on his right hand after notching the early birthday present. He turns 31 on Thursday.
- WATCH THE RACE: Michael Phelps Earns His Spot to Rio
- WATCH THE TRIALS LIVE: Day 5 of the Olympic Swimming Trials
Yep, it’s Olympics No. 5, making him the first male swimmer to compete in that many Summer Games.
“I think that means the most tonight,” Phelps said, pausing to compose himself. “Just being able to finish how I want to is so important to me. Getting on this team is what I wanted to do.”
Franklin, meanwhile, turned in one of the gutsiest performances of her career to earn a spot for Rio in the 200 freestyle. One night after she struggled to seventh in the 100 backstroke — an event she won four years ago in London — there was plenty of speculation that she’d be hard-pressed to qualify for any individual events at these games.
Franklin herself sounded as though she’d be happy just getting on the team as a relay swimmer.
Turns out, she’ll be busier than that in Brazil.
While Katie Ledecky romped to victory in the 200 free, earning a second individual event at the Olympics, Franklin rallied over the second half of the race to claim the runner-up spot.
Ledecky touched in 1:54.88, following up her easy victory in the 400 free.
Franklin’s coach, Todd Schmitz, pumped his fists and charged down the steps of the arena to congratulate his bubbly swimmer, one of the biggest stars of the London Games.
She finally had reason to smile.
“Last night was really tough and coming back from that, I was telling myself, ‘I’m not done fighting. I’m not done with believing in myself,'” Franklin said. “That’s probably the most proud race I’ve ever swam in my entire career, coming back from such a loss last night and telling myself that I still have it in me to do whatever I believe I can do.”
Franklin touched in 1:56.18, edging out Leah Smith by just under a half-second. Allison Schmitt, the defending gold medalist, settled for fourth but that will at least be good enough to get another star from the London Games on the team as a relay swimmer.
Phelps, who retired after the last Olympics but soon reversed his decision, took the 200 fly in 1:54.84 — far off the world record of 1:51.51 he set at the 2009 world championships while wearing one of the high-tech suits that have since been banned.
But there’s time to work on his speed between now and Rio. For now, Phelps is thrilled to be going back to the Olympics, where he’ll get a chance to add to the already staggering amount of hardware he’s accumulated at the last four Olympics: 18 golds and 22 medals overall.
Going along for the ride this time is his first child, 7-week-old Boomer, who watched from the stands in the arms of his mom. The infant wore noise-canceling headphones adorned with American flags so he wouldn’t be startled by the huge roar that went up when his daddy touched the wall first.
Phelps reflected on his stumbles since London, most notably a second drunken driving arrest that prompted him to take a whole new look at his life. He reconnected with his long-estranged father, got engaged, gave up alcohol and committed himself to closing his career with a flourish.
“With everything that’s happened and being able to come back, that was probably harder than any swim I’ve had in my life,” Phelps said. “It’s probably more nerve-wracking here than it is at the Olympics.”