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Even though it was not a surprise thatMichael Phelps accomplished his goal of becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time, it is still extremely exciting! The 27-year-old won his 19th Olympic medal last week with a victory in the men’s 4X200-meter freestyle relay.
"I started smiling with about 20 meters to go. That's the first time I've ever done that," Phelps told USA Today.
Phelps also acknowledged that he was part of a relay, so he owed three other men credit for the gold medal finish. The golden boy of the USA swim team this year, Ryan Lochte, got the team off to a wonderful start with a sizable lead. Conor Dwyer held the lead throughout the second leg, and Ricky Berens grew the lead further, providing Phelps with a considerable comfort zone to enjoy his history-making win.
"I thanked those guys for helping me get to this moment," Phelps told reporters after the win. "I told those guys I wanted a big lead. I was like, 'You better give me a big lead going into the last lap,' and they gave it to me. I just wanted to hold on. I thanked them for being able to allow me to have this moment."
Of Phelps’ 19 Olympic medals, an impressive 15 of them are gold. The formerly most-decorated Olympian had been Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, with 18 medals over the span of three Olympic games (1956, 1960, and 1964).
Phelps was arguably the biggest star of the 2008 Beijing games, where he won eight gold medals, taking the record for the most gold medals won at a single Olympic Games. Five of the eight medals were in individual events.
After the 2008 Games, Phelps seemed to enjoy his newfound celebrity a bit too much and was suspended from competition for three months in 2009 after being photographed taking a hit of marijuana from a bong at a party. Understandably, the Olympic celebrity received a great deal of negative press following the picture’s release, and even had his contract with Kellogg’s cancelled.
Although Phelps did not publically admit to smoking marijuana, he did issue a public statement apologizing for his “bad judgment” and “regrettable” behavior.
USA Swimming also released a statement reading:
“This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero. Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust.”
Phelps did stay out of trouble after that and obviously refocused himself to get back in the pool and work as hard as necessary to make his historical comeback.