Rio de Janeiro – Michael Phelps has indicated all along that the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro would be his last, and he confirmed as much Friday night after he ended his individual career with a silver medal in the men’s 100-meter butterfly.
“I’m ready to retire, and I’m happy about it,” Phelps said, according to Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. “I’m in a better state of mind this time than I was four years ago.”
Phelps earned his 22nd gold medal Thursday night when he bested fellow American Ryan Lochte in the men’s 200-meter individual medley, and his compatriot hinted Friday morning that the most decorated Olympian in history could be destined for a return to the pool in 2020.
“I guarantee he will be there,” Lochte said on NBC’s Today show, according to USA Today‘s A.J. Perez. “I think so. I really think so. So Michael, I’ll see you in Tokyo.”
However, Phelps squashed that speculation Friday after he finished in a three-way tie for silver with South Africa’s Chad le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh behind the triumphant 21-year-old Joseph Schooling of Singapore.
“And I’ll clarify, Ryan (Lochte) doesn’t know what he’s talking about; I’m not coming back in 2020,” Phelps said, per Team USA’s Nick McCarvel. “I saw that today and I thought, ‘Oh, thanks Ryan! Throwing me out there for another four years.’ If he wants to come back for another four years, it will be fun to watch.”
Although Phelps was forced to settle for silver—his 27th Olympic medal—Friday night, he didn’t sound particularly disappointed by the 51.14-second swim.
“There was nothing I could do,” Phelps said, per McCarvel. “It is what it is. Last night I got the most sleep I have gotten the whole meet. I slept nine or 10 hours. But hats off to Joe. That was a hell of a race from him. I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses over the four years.”
Phelps’ individual career may have ended on a silver note, but he will have a chance to add a 23rd gold medal to his resume Saturday evening when he hits the pool for the men’s 4×100-meter medley relay.
“I have two laps left in my career,” Phelps reiterated, per McCarvel.
And if recent history is any indication, Phelps has a strong chance of going out on top.
The Americans have captured gold in every 4×100-meter medley relay dating back to 1984. In fact, the United States has failed to win gold in the event just once. The lone exception came in 1980, when Australia placed first.
It would have been reasonable to expect an up-and-down effort in Rio from the 31-year-old given the trials and tribulations that consumed him away from the sport, but Phelps has exceeded every expectation and cemented his status as the greatest Olympian in history with four golds and a silver to his name already this year.
Consider a gold on Saturday icing on the cake as Phelps seeks to ride off into the Rio sunset with medals aplenty draped around his neck.