Now that his flag-carrying duties are out of the way, Michael Phelps is eager to get started on his fifth Olympics. That will likely come Sunday in the 4×100-meter freestyle relay, a title the Americans are looking to reclaim after getting chased down by the French in 2012. Phelps’ expected debut would be one of the highlights on the second day of swimming at the Rio Games, though he’d have to share the spotlight with Katie Ledecky. She’ll be looking for the first of an expected three individual gold medals, going in as a heavy favorite in the 400 freestyle. The only suspense seems to be whether she’ll break her own world record. (Follow full coverage Rio 2016 Olympics)
Ledecky already picked up her first medal of the games, anchoring the women’s 4×100 free relay to a silver-medal finish behind Australia on Saturday.
Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympic history, wants to do his part for the men’s relay team.
“That’s something I’ve had the privilege to be a part of since 2004, and I’m hoping to have the opportunity again,” Phelps said. “It’s always super-fast and there are always some wild, crazy splits that take place.”
In 2008, the Americans memorably defeated the French when Jason Lezak chased down Alain Bernard with the fastest 100 split in history, a victory that kept Phelps on course to win a record eight gold medals in Beijing.
Four years ago, the French got their revenge when Yannick Agnel caught Ryan Lochte on the anchor leg. This time, it’s hardly a two-country race.
The Australians also figure to be in the mix, especially riding the momentum of an impressive opening night at the pool. They captured two gold medals, also taking the men’s 400 free when Mack Horton held off defending Olympic champion Sun Yang of China, doubling up on the one gold medal they managed during their disappointing performance at the 2012 London Games.
“You can probably pick three or four teams that are going to have a chance to win that relay,” Phelps said. “The Australians made a significant charge over the past couple of years with their men’s and women’s teams combined. A lot of younger guys really stepped up, and that brings more excitement to the sport.”
Phelps has been part of the 4×100 free relay at the last three Olympics, even though the 100 free has never been one of his individual specialties.
It’s unfathomable that the Americans would leave off a swimmer with 18 golds and 22 medals overall, especially after a dismal performance at last year’s worlds when the U.S. didn’t even qualify for the final — a performance that was especially galling to Phelps, who had to sit out the meet as part of his punishment for a second drunken-driving arrest.
“I do know that the coaching staff will put out the four fastest guys, whoever that is,” Phelps said coyly. “I’m looking forward to either watching or being in that race.”
Also on tap for the second day of swimming: finals in the women’s 100 butterfly and men’s 100 breaststroke.