The last one? Four years ago, in London 2012, Michael Phelps (USA), after concluding his fourth Olympics and totalling 22 podium presences, announced his retirement. Came Rio 2016 and also Phelps, for six more medals (including five victories), for an accumulated 28 medal-tally (among them 23 Olympic titles)! The last (are we sure?) triumph of the best athlete ever happened in the last session of the Swimming finals at the Rio Aquatics Stadium, with the gold of the US 4x100m medley relay in a new Olympic record of 3:27.95. The previous best was also from the North Americans and was set in Beijing 2008. Phelps swam the butterfly leg and was decisive in the final victory, as Adam Peaty had brought Great Britain to the first place after the breaststroke leg. Before Phelps' effort, US Ryan Murphy had swum the initial backstroke split in a new World Record of 51.85, the eighth and final global mark at these Olympics.
Phelps leaves Rio (and the pools?) with six medals, distributed as follows: gold in the 200m fly, 200m IM, 4x100m free, 4x200m free, 4x100m medley, and silver in the 100m fly. No other athlete in the Olympic history has a comparable record: besides the total number of 28 medals, Phelps is obviously the only competitor to ever win at least six medals in four consecutive editions of the Games. Moreover, in Beijing 2008, he was the first athlete ever to earn eight gold medals in a single Olympics! Superlatives are not enough for the man who has brought Swimming to another dimension in the last 12 years!
The remaining podium places in the men’s 4x100m medley relay went to Great Britain (silver, 3:29.24) and Australia (bronze in 3:29.93).
In the first final of the night, the 2012 Olympic champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo and the 2015 world gold medallist Bronte Campbell were naturally the stars to watch, but a totally different outcome consecrated Pernille Blume (DEN) as the winner in Rio, in a time of 24.07. Simone Manuel (USA), already Olympic champion in the 100m earned silver in 24.09, while Aliaksandra Herasimenia (BLR) took bronze in 24.11. The champion from Belarus had already been in the podium four years ago in London, where she was second. The Australian Campbell sisters did not reach the podium, with Cate (2013 world vice-champion) finishing in fifth (24.15) and Bronte concluding in seventh (24.42). Kromowidjojo (NED), who medalled in the last three editions of the FINA World Championships was only sixth, in 24.19.
In the men’s 1500m free, Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri did a solitary race, but had a very painful last 100m did not allow him to improve the World Record, established by 2012 Olympic champion Sun Yang (CHN) in 14:31.02. Paltrinieri, also the 2015 world champion in Kazan, swam always under the WR pace, but had to content with the gold in 14:34.57. He was however clearly better than the rest of the field, with US Connor Jaeger getting the silver in 14:39.49 and the second Italian of the final, Gabriele Detti, earning bronze in 14:40.86. Paltrinieri had been fifth of the 2012 final, and also silver medallist at the 2013 Worlds, while Jaeger was also second in Russia last year. Jordan Wilimovsky (USA), 10km world champion last summer and participating in the marathon swimming of these Games next Tuesday, finished fourth, while Ryan Cochrane (CAN), in the podium of the last four World Championships and silver medallist in London 2012 was sixth in 14:49.61.
In the penultimate event of the swimming programme (women's 4x100m medley), the USA displayed once more their power, getting one more gold medal in 3:53.13 and revalidating the Olympic title from London 2012. The Australians (silver medallists in Kazan 2015) got the silver in 3:55.00, while an inspired Danish relay (with Pernille Blume swimming the last leg) earned bronze in 3:55.01 (they were seventh four years ago). Last year’s world champions, China, didn’t get to the podium, finishing in fourth (3:55.18).
Women’s 50m free
Simone Manuel (USA), silver
"The 50 free is a work in progress for me. I mean, all my races are, but just coming off the 100 I was pretty confident that hopefully I could get a medal, and I was super ecstatic that I could get second place and in the best time. I couldn't really ask for better. I didn't really get to relish in the moment because I had to get to the relay, so I still haven't completely thought about the race but I'm happy with getting back on the podium."
"My family keeps me grounded and my coach too. He reminded me to focus on the journey and keeping things in perspective."
"I have always been inspired by Michael Phelps. Just to see that he accomplished the goals he had set is amazing. He told me good job for my medals."
Aliaksandra Herasimenia (BLR), bronze
"This medal was a lot harder to get than the previous one. It is not more valuable because, of course, I wanted the gold. I was so close, so close. It wasn't even about who was faster or stronger, but who had more luck. Of course I wanted gold but bronze is great to. Maybe I am not quite ready for gold but bronze is still an Olympic medal.”
"I don't understand what this means yet. I might fully grasp the significance of this in days, weeks, maybe even a month."
“I dedicate my success to anyone that has been supported me, including people on social media.”
"It was a lot harder than in London, especially given my unsuccessful earlier races here. It was hard to get my strength and thoughts in place, but this was the last distance, the last swim."
"When I swim in the end lane, I don't see anyone, I don't scurry and swim like I should. I don't know if that was an advantage or disadvantage because I can't swim that race again in another lane."
"I was told 'be yourself'."
Men’s 1500m free
Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA), gold
"It's amazing. I have dreamed of this medal ever since I was a child. I mean a gold medal, it was more difficult than I expected because it's an Olympic final. It was tough but I'm very excited. The gold medal is amazing."
“I really think I deserve this medal, with all the efforts I have provided this year. It was my top priority and the only thing missing. I wanted it to conclude like this.”
“I didn’t have any special strategy, just create a gap between me and the others. I don’t think I couldn’t have done better. I tried to go out faster and put out a gap between me and the others. It was tough. After 1000 metres or 1100 metres I was really dead but I am very happy about this performance. It's amazing."
“The last months for me were very difficult. This is the Olympic Games and the emotion is bigger. I have made mistakes in the past and I wasn’t ready for gold. But I have overcome these bad times and Rio was successful for me.”
“Gabriele and I experience the same ups and downs. We were together in this experience. We have both started to concentrate on this event and we have helped together a lot to arrive to this point.”
“My relatives are the only people I can relief my stress and calm. I felt very insecure and I thought I couldn’t do it. I trust them completely.”
Connor Jaeger (USA), silver
"A pretty exciting way for me to end the meet. I got to wait around for seven days until I could race again and basically watched Team USA swim out of their minds.”
"I got a little anxious on the bench so to be able to come back and add to that medal count really means a lot to me because that’s why I’m here. There was a point where I thought I would catch Gregorio but couldn’t be at the same level. I have a lot of respect for the other two medalists.”
"I knew that I had an opportunity to contribute to that and help it be a record-breaking Olympics. So if the two relays got it done then I had to do something. So to add to that is awesome."
Gabriele Detti (ITA), bronze
"I always use the same strategy. I always start pretty slow and keep to my own pace, and then increase progressively. In a way, I am very happy to have achieved this result because I did the perfect competition that I was expecting."
"Having Gregorio, being together on the podium, was the maximum expression of happiness for me. We train together, we swim together.
"Being on the podium with him and having the national anthem made my result even more special."
"Before the competition we say pretty straightforward things like, 'good luck'. We don't talk too much. We just give a straight message and we know what each one of us means."
"Me and Gregorio, we made a bet if I lose I have to die my hair blond so if you see me walking around with blond hair you know why."
Women’s 4x100m medley
Dana Vollmer: “I think it is really great to have someone like Katie in the team. She has been such a role model to us.”
“It is such a honor to be the 1000th medal for the USA, a real milestone. The amount of work that was provided since so many years. In Team USA everyone is bounded by this same fighting spirit. Such a great legacy behind Team USA. We have a strong history.”
“I got chill every time an US person swims. We have had so many rookies this time and amazing moments as the women’s team. Missy Franklin was always here for us. We could really feel the strength of the women’s team behind us every time.”
“We have a very confident women’s team and we have loved this. We are going to keep seeing WR.”
“Having the first black women winning an Olympic medal is bringing so much to the sport.”
Simone Manuel: "It's really special and the fact that I could do it with the relay is amazing. I mean, just sharing that with three other women is the icing on top of the cake and I couldn't have done this without the relay swimmers, the coaches. One thousand medals for Team USA is a nice number."
"I think all of them, but especially the relays. I mean, fighting out there with three other women is the greatest honour that you could ever have. But all of them were pretty special because I worked really hard to get here, and to see that paid off, and getting on the podium, was amazing."
"I have worked so hard the past few years. I am glad I didn't give up."
"Winning the 1000th medal for the USA is amazing, especially with these girls. I have always wanted more and I am definitely inspired by great swimmers."
"We turned a colour related to coloured swimmers. I would like to see more diversity in the sport. My success shows that everyone can be successful too."
Emma McKeon: “It was definitely a though week. Mentally and physically. I need to step back a look at the lessons I have learned this week. I am definitely looking forward to the future as well.”
“I didn’t expect to walk away from my first Olympics with a gold medal. I am so proud of my team. The fact that we were able to pull it together means a lot. I am very happy.”
Jeanette Ottesen: "We had such a great relay. We've had so many opportunities to swim well. We've just never really succeeded. It takes four girls to swim fast and it's hard for all girls to swim fast and today we did it and it's been such a long operation and a long four years."
Rikke Pedersen: "The Olympics is always one of a kind and this one is even more because it's in Brazil and the great swimming and everything. Finishing like this makes it outstanding."
Pernille Blume: "I don't think I have words for it but this is just the best to finish off the Olympics with these girls. We have been together for four years and they are hardworking girls and it is amazing that we all stand here together and we all get a medal."
“The last 48h were completely crazy for me. We have had such an amazing atmosphere in the call room.”
“I decided to take a break from swimming 7-8 months ago. I needed time to figure out how to enjoy what I am doing. I am so happy that I came back in the pool. It has been an incredible journey.”
Men's 4x100m medley
Michael Phelps: “I am very tired. Just walking into the pool tonight my emotions started to surface. Just thinking that this is my last one, I get very emotional. I look back at my career I am happy I have accomplished. I couldn’t be happier, these Olympics was the cherry on the tops.”
“I never tell where I keep my medals. Maybe Boomer can see one of them. He can have a shot with one of them. I want him to wear one of those I have won here before we go.”
“This all started with a little kid’s dream and it turned out pretty cool. I said it many times but it is true. Being able to cap it off with these Games has been perfect.”
"Getting off the bus walking into the pool tonight, I almost felt myself starting to cry. Last warm-up, last time putting on a suit, last time walking out in front of thousands of people representing my country. It's insane. A lot better than what it was four years ago. This is how I wanted to finish my career, the way I wanted to. I held back a little bit on the podium but there were some that were popping down. It just feels good to know that the hard work did pay off and I was able to fight through some of the times that I went through the last two years and get back to where I actually wanted to be. This was the actual cherry on top of the cake and looking forward to starting a new chapter."
“23 will always be a special number.”
“Every event is special in a way, every medal is special in a way. I can’t pick one. They are all part of our career with Bob and I for 20 years. I guess you can say it was special and now I am ready to retire. This is the start of something new, a new chapter in my life.”
“The biggest things that has changed is that you guys are seeing me now. I was never myself before. I wanted the world to see who I am.”
“Everything in life happens for a specific reason. All the things I have been through made me who I am. Now I am at the best place I have ever been my entire life. I wouldn’t change anything about my past!”
“Michael Jordan has been an inspiration for me throughout my career. We have done a lot of work but still lots to do.”
“Nicole and I are so excited to be the best parents we can be. It will just be awesome to be part of his life every day and see what I can teach him. Nicole and I have been on and off for nine years but we have grown together. We are 100% made for each other.”
“We have some hungry kids for swimming all around the world. That’s something I have never seen in the sport.”
Bob Bowman: “Michael was a part of the catalyst as the team’s captain. He did a really great job leafing the younger guys, getting them in the right frame of mind.”
“The whole thing just came together and he played a big role in this.”
“I can’t produce another Michael, he is too special. It’s not even one per generation that you find someone like him. He has an emotional ability to perform better under pressure. But you can see other amazing swimmers like Katie Ledecky and others.”
Ryan Murphy: “Being a part of that relay didn’t prepare me to that relay. Nathan and Michael are two guys I really look up to.”
“This meet has been incredible. 3 gold medals and one WR … never I would have believed it but I worked super hard for. It is truly incredible.”
“We are all have different pasts before coming here so it is great to gather all our strength together for the relay.”
“You can’t think about the race before. In the call room everyone does their individual routines. Michael just said “Let’s just go out there and kill it. That wasn’t much. It was enough for me to get hyped"
“Michael has accomplished everything so it would be hard to stay driven.”
“It was my first experience with Michael but he wasn’t too emotional before the race but after he was. If this is the end for him, it is a great way to cap off your career. He made the sport a bit more mainstream, at least every four years.”