Olympics: Stanford’s Simone Manuel Shares Historic Night with Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps has struck an emotional pose over the first week of the Rio Games. The Baltimore swimmer loves nothing more than to mug with his 3-month-old son Boomer after races while sitting with fiancee Nicole Johnson.
“It brings tears to my eyes because I want to hold him and hang out with him more,” Phelps said Thursday night after winning his fourth gold medal in Brazil.
It’s a new look for the most decorated athlete in Olympic history who added to his growing legend at the pool.
However, he had to share the crowded spotlight on a night that Stanford’s Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming and Cal’s Ryan Murphy also added to his golden collection.
Manuel popped out of the pool holding back tears after she and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak finished in a dead heat to tie for the Olympic record of 52.70 seconds. The North Americans chased down Australia’s Cate Campbell, who had set the world record last month.
Manuel, 20, was runner-up at the U.S. trials to Cal-bound Abbey Weitzeil and gave no indication she had a breakout performance in her. Coach Dave Marsh didn’t even include the Cardinal junior in the final of the 400 relay last weekend, relegating her to the morning preliminaries.
None of it mattered to Manuel, who credited African-American Olympic swimmers Maritza Correia and Cullen Jones for her opportunity.
“This medal is not just for me,” she said. “It’s for a whole bunch of people that came before me and have been an inspiration to me. It’s for all the people after me, who believe they can’t do it. And I just want to be inspiration to others that you can do it.”
Murphy looked stoic after winning his second gold medal with a victory in the 200-meter backstroke. He finished with a time of 1 minute, 53.62 seconds to continue the United States’ remarkable 20-year dominance of the event.
Murphy, 21, took the lead on the halfway turn and then stroked away from the field for a convincing victory to sweep the backstroke events. Berkeley teammate Jacob Pebley finished in fifth place.
“The 200 back is an event that I really have to dig deep for,” Murphy told reporters. “That’s the one I wanted really bad.”
As striking as the performances were, it takes something colossal to knock Phelps from Mount Olympus, where he continues to swim like the gods.
Phelps became the first swimmer to win a single event in four consecutive Olympics with his victory in the 200-meter individual medley. He won his 22nd gold medal in a time of 1:54.66, years ahead of Japan silver medalist Kosuke Hagino (1:56.61).
Phelps’ longtime American rival Ryan Lochte was fifth after leading at the midway point.
Phelps wiggled four fingers after the race to accentuate the latest barrier he broke.
The doting father might need more fingers. Phelps returned to the blocks shortly after the playing of the national anthem to advance in the 100 breaststroke Friday along with Cal’s Tom Shields.
“As a kid, I wanted to do something that no one had ever done before and I’m enjoying it,” he told reporters.
Phelps, 31, could win two more gold medals in Rio, a stunning turnaround for a man who was banned from competing at the 2015 world championships.
Four years ago in London, Phelps talked about getting away from the pool to explore new avenues. But as fast as he could swim, Phelps couldn’t outstroke controversy with a second arrest for driving under the influence two years ago.
Cracks had first appeared after he won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games. A photo circulated of Phelps with a bong, followed by a string of broken relationships.
He sometimes seemed lost without swimming.
“So, you’re telling me that although you have enough money in the world, the freedom to go anywhere you want, that there is something that swimming provides you’re not getting on the golf course?” his coach Bob Bowman said two years ago.
A few months later it all unraveled with the DUI. U.S. swim officials banned their star from racing, including entering the world championships in Russia.
The transformation began in the fall of 2014 at a treatment center near Phoenix. Phelps has said he emerged with a new perspective about what really mattered after his six-week stay. He joined his longtime coach at Arizona State, where Bowman runs the Sun Devils program.
“He hid everything that makes him human for 12 years,” Bowman told the New York Times this summer. “The rehab is what opened him up.”
The five-time Olympian, however, still knows how to get up for a challenge, said former Cal star Natalie Coughlin. The 12-time Olympic medalist said Thursday that Phelps got a gift when South African rival Chad le Clos taunted him at the pool earlier this week.
“Those antics really fired him up and brought out a much better performance than we would have seen otherwise,” Coughlin said.
“I want to finish my career how I want to so that’s what I’m doing,” Phelps said.
Russian Yulia Efimova, a controversial figured allowed to compete despite recording two positive drug tests, was runner-up in the 200 breaststroke to get her second silver medal in Rio.
Cal sprinters Nathan Adrian and Anthony Ervin advanced to the final of the 50 freestyle with blistering semifinal performances. Stanford alumna Maya DiRado advanced to the 200 backstroke finals, but former Cal star Missy Franklin -- the world-record holder and defending Olympic champion -- failed to make the final eight. Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond .