The most medaled human being in existence is going to make some more Olympic history. By winning the 200-meter butterfly at the Olympic trials in Omaha yesterday, Michael Phelps has qualified for his fifth summer games, a first for an American male swimmer.
Phelps finished in 1:54.84, not a great time, but the time didn’t matter. Phelps is going to Rio, and with everything that’s gone down in his life since his last Olympics, it’s no wonder that he was proud of this one.
“That means the most tonight,” Phelps said afterward. “With everything that’s happened, being able to come back, that’s probably harder than any swim I’ve had in my life.”
Since 2012, Phelps has retired, unretired; gotten a DUI arrest, gone to rehab; reconciled with his estranged father, gotten engaged, had a son. We’ve known him for more of his life than we haven’t, from the gawky 15-year-old at the Sydney Games, to the emergent star in Athens, to his once-in-a-lifetime eight-gold performance in Beijing, to his dominant swims in London after the world was ready to declare him washed up.
Today is Phelps’s 31st birthday, a veritable old man in what’s increasingly a young person’s sport. (Missy Franklin, a star four years ago, has struggled at these trials. She’s just 21 years old.) He still plans to swim the 100-meter butterfly and the 200-meter individual medley qualifiers, and could be selected to relay teams based on his past results. An individual medal in Brazil would be an unexpected triumph for the 22-time Olympic medalist, but in a lot of ways, just getting to Brazil is an unexpected triumph.