RIO DE JANEIRO -- The United States rules the pool again in the 4x100-meter freestyle as Michael Phelps won his 23rd Olympic medal overall and his 19th gold.
Team USA won the sprint relay at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, clinching the gold with a time of 3:09.92 seconds, followed by France, the defending champion, at 3:10.53. Australia took the bronze in 3:11.37.
“We wanted that race back so badly,” Phelps said of the United States’ silver-medal finish in London. “I played that race for the guys in the room the other day. In 2008, we had a great one. In 2012, we fell off a little bit. My last 4x100 relay, it feels damn good to get a win.”
With Caeleb Dressel swimming leadoff, Phelps swam the second leg, followed by Ryan Held. Nathan Adrian, the defending Olympic champion in the 100-meter freestyle, was the anchor.
France led after the first leg by .02 seconds, so Phelps then went to work. He built an insurmountable lead by swimming the fastest 100-meter freestyle of his career, 47.12 seconds.
“It was crazy,” said Phelps. “I was standing on the blocks while Caeleb was coming in and I honestly thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest.”
Knowing how hard it is to swim in the wake, Phelps tried to give Held and Adrian open water. “I just wanted to hammer it,” he said.
This was the first chance for Phelps to medal in his fifth Olympic Games. Although he did not compete in the 100 freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming, the head men's coach knew what he was capable of doing in a sprint. Bob Bowman is also Phelps' personal coach.
He now has more gold medals than most countries have managed in their Olympic history.
A new father, Phelps said before the Games began that he was looking forward to swimming with his infant son, Boomer, in the stands and that the baby "would have some cool outfits on. He'll be dressed to impress, that's for sure."
The United States dominated the event from 1964, when it made its first Olympic appearance, to 1996. Then the Australians outdueled Team USA in 2000 and South Africa prevailed in 2004, with Holland second and the U.S. third.
Then Phelps earned his first opportunity to swim the event in Beijing in 2008.
However, if not for Jason Lezak, Phelps would have seen his quest for eight gold medals end after just one event. But Lezak swam a heroic anchor leg to overtake France and win the gold by eight hundredths of a second, 3:08.24 to 3:08.32. His split was 46.06 seconds to hand the U.S. its first gold medal in the event in 12 years. The world record still stands.
Four years later in London, France got its revenge, winning 3:09.03 to 3:10.38 against a U.S. team composed of Adrian, Phelps, Cullen Jones and Ryan Lochte. Yannick Agnel swam the anchor leg for France, erasing a .55-second deficit. That was Phelps' first silver medal.
Phelps, 31, and Adrian, 27, got a kick out of the younger guys – Held is 21 and Dressel will turn 20 on Aug. 16 – and Phelps gave them some tips.
“I kind of told them beforehand, I was like, ‘It’s OK to sing and it’s OK to cry (on the medal podium).’ It’s good to see emotion out of those young guys. It shows they really do care and they love what they’re doing. For me as one of the old dudes, I think it’s great to see.”
He said he and Adrian viewed them as the sprinters of the future.
“Nathan was asking if I was coming back,” Phelps said. “I said sorry bro, you guys got this, I’m out. But it felt good to get my last 400 free relay of my career and this thing around my neck.”
Phelps will also swim three individual events in Rio and probably at least one more relay.
“I was happy to have Phelps here,” said Held. “With Phelps around you get more enthusiasm, more excitement for the race.”
Held said he knew he probably was going to be one of the slower legs and told himself. “Whatever I do, do not lose any ground, maintain any position, and I had faith in Nathan he could bring it home.”
Adrian had the fastest U.S. split at 46.97.
Held said he gains confidence being around Adrian. “I feel like I stand a little bit taller with him, a little faster, stronger, smarter with him,” Held said. “This is the Olympics, this is the lights, cameras. Nathan’s great about taking it calm.”
He also will always remember what he learned from Phelps.
“Michael’s a great leader,” Held said. “He’s a great inspiration. The best thing he’s taught me is take it in, have fun, man. Let the emotions fuel you. This is a once in a lifetime experience.”
Well, for Phelps, it’s a five times in a lifetime experience.
Australian swimmer James Magnussen also calls Phelps an inspiration.
“To stay at the top of the world for that many Olympics is something most of couldn’t dream of,” he said “It gives guys in the middle inspiration to think we can keep going for another Olympics. It’s always great to see a fairytale like that unfold in a race that you’re a part of.”
In the other men’s final at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium in the Barra Olympic Park, Cody Miller continued Indiana University's tradition of winning Olympic medals after a 40-year gap.
Miller set an American record of 58.87 seconds to win the bronze medal in the men's 100-meter breaststroke.
Adam Peaty of Great Britain won in a world-record time of 57.13 seconds, followed by Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa in 58.69 seconds.
Kevin Cordes, the Olympic Trials champion and previous American-record holder, was fourth with a time of 59.22.
Miller, 24, was born with a chest deformity that diminishes his lung capacity and stands just 5-foot-10 while most other breaststrokers are well over 6 feet tall. However, he used determination to rise to the top of the swimming world.
The Indiana Hoosiers had four swimmers competing at the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games: Gary Hall Sr., Jim Montgomery, Charlie Keating and Jennifer Hooker. Of course, the most famous Indiana swimmer was the legendary Mark Spitz.
“It was no doubt the fastest heat of 100-meter breaststroke ever,” said Miller. “For me to get my hand on the wall and a medal for my country, I honestly can’t describe how it feels. I just always hoped I would get a medal. Yeah, that was pretty cool. That was something.”
He said it was tough competing against Cordes.
“We’re really good friends,” Miller said. “We’re close, but once we walk out of that dressing room, everyone’s going to war.”