How Michael Phelps has changed the sport of swimming forever.

michael phelps legacy

On Monday, Michael Phelps announced his retirement in an interview with Today‘s Matt Lauer. Despite having made the same announcement to Lauer four years ago in London, Phelps insists it’s true.

“Done, done, done — and this time I mean it,” he told Lauer. “I wanted to come back and finish my career how I wanted and this was the cherry on top of the cake.”

The 31-year-old ended his Rio Olympics with five gold medals and one silver bringing his career total to 28 medals and further cementing his most decorated Olympian of all time title.

Phelps’ stats are staggering. The following are just a few of the Olympic records he holds:

  • Most medals by an athlete (28)
  • Most gold medals (23)
  • Most medals in individual events (16)
  • Most gold medals in individual events (13)
  • Most gold medals at a single Olympics (8)

One of the best parts about Phelps’ career is that his legacy is already being felt.

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Over the last 16 years Phelps has been swimming’s greatest ambassador. Continually smashing world records and winning gold has inspired legions of kids to take up swimming — some of whom went onto realise their dream of competing in the Olympics just like their idol. Meaning Phelps has been regularly competing against and with those he inspired to take up swimming in the first place.

There’s Daiya Seto, the 22-year-old from Japan who won bronze in the 400m medley. He had his picture taken with Phelps in Japan 14 years ago.

24-year-old Chad Le Clos, who has been Phelps’ biggest rival in the last few years said he modelled his entire career around Phelps.

“He was the reason I swam the butterfly. It’s not a joke,” Le Clos said in 2012. “That’s why I swim the 200 freestyle, both the IMs. I don’t swim it for any other reason than just because Michael does.”

In 2003 a six-year-old Katie Ledecky asked Phelps for an autograph as he walked to his car after a meet at the University of Maryland. Three years later she waited in line to get the Olympic legend’s autograph again.

Now 19, Ledecky is being hailed as the future of United States swimming. Winning her first gold medal at 15-years-old at the 2012 London games, she brought her total up to five gold medals and one silver at this Rio games.

“Katie’s doing her thing and she’s breaking records every time she gets in the pool,” Phelps said to Lauer during his retirement announcement. “It’s been an honour for me to be a part of the team with her and some of the younger guys that we have coming up in the sport that are going to take over.”

Last Friday night, 21-year-old Joseph Schooling, beat Phelps to the 100m butterfly gold securing Singapore’s first gold medal ever. During the medal ceremony, Schooling stood on the top step with his childhood idol to his right.

According to The Guardian, Schooling first met Phelps in 2008 when the U.S. swim team visited Singapore before the Beijing Olympics.

“They came to the country club that I trained at,” Schooling said. It was early in the morning, and he was working on an essay. “Everyone just rushed up and was like ‘it’s Michael Phelps! It’s Michael Phelps!’ and I really wanted a picture.”

And Phelps delivered.

“If it wasn’t for Michael, I don’t think I could have gotten to this point. I wanted to be like him as a kid,” Schooling said after winning his gold in Rio. “I think a lot of this is because of Michael. He is the reason why I wanted to be a better swimmer.”

And though Phelps lost, there was satisfaction in the defeat.

“We’ve all seen the photo of Katie [Ledecky] and I when she was 9, 10, and the photo of Joe [Schooling] and I,” Phelps told reporters after the race. “I wanted to change the sport of swimming. That’s what I wanted to do. With the people in the sport now, I think you’re seeing it.”

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