Michael Phelps Retires: The History Behind His 28 Olympic Medals

by greenrush
michael phelps retires

Michael Phelps, the most decorated olympian of all time, announced his retirement after winning his 23rd gold medal at the 400 meter medley relay in Rio over the weekend.

“When I walked over to do my first warm up, before I even put my goggles on, I started to tear up, because I knew this was it,” he said at a press conference on August 14th as he reflected on his career.

“This is the last time that you’ll ever see me in the water racing again.”

This isn’t the first time Phelps has announced his retirement. After the London Olympics in 2012, with 22 olympic medals under his belt and the title of the most decorated olympian of all time freshly stamped next to his name, he said he was “ready to move on.”

But this time he says he means it. In an interview with the Today Show, he insisted that there was no coming back.

"I'm done. I'm finished. I'm retired. I'm done. No more,” he told Matt Lauer yesterday. To mark the end of his career as one of the country's greatest athletes of all times, join us as we pay tribute to Phelps’ epic olympic swimming career.

Michael Phelps’ Olympic Career

michael phelps retires

Michael Phelps made his first olympic appearance in 2000 in Sydney at the age of 15 as the youngest male to qualify for a US olympic swim team in 68 years.


At the 2004 US Olympic Team Trials, Phelps set his first world record for the 400 meter individual medley with a time 4:08.41. He also became the first person to qualify in six individual events for a U.S. Olympic team.

At the Olympic Games in Athens that same year, Phelps set another world record for the 400 meter individual medley, beating his record at the trials by less than 20 milliseconds. He also went on to set a new olympic record for the 200 meter and the 200 meter individual medley. He won a total of 8 medals at the event, 6 gold, 2 bronze).


In 2008, at the US Olympic Team Trials, Phelps went on to break his own world records for both the 400 and 200 meter individual medley. At the Olympics in Beijing, he went on to win 8 olympic medals, all of which were gold, and set 7 world records for a variety events, including:

  • 400 meter individual medley
  • 4x100 meter freestyle
  • 200 meter freestyle
  • 200 meter  butterfly
  • 200 meter individual medley
  • 4x100 meter medley relay


At the summer olympics in London, before announcing his retirement for the first time, Phelps went on to win 6 olympic medals (4 gold, 2 silver) and set a new world record for the 400 meter individual medley. By qualifying for the Olympic team in London, he also came to hold the male record for most olympic appearances in swimming representing the US.


So far in Rio de Janeiro, Phelps has won a further 6 olympic medals for the following events:

  • 200 meter butterfly (Gold)
  • 200 meter medley (Gold)
  • 4×100 meter freestyle (Gold)
  • 4×200 meter freestyle (Gold)
  • 4×100 meter medley (Gold)
  • 100 meter butterfly (Silver)

His achievements in Rio led him to break the record for the most medals ever won by an Olympian, with a total of 28 under his belt, 23 of which are gold.

Phelps’ Controversies

michael phelps retires

In February 2009, Phelps made headlines after being photographed smoking cannabis from a bong at a party. The infamous photo, above, led him to lose his corporate sponsorship from Kellogg’s and receive a 3-month suspension from USA swimming.

Phelps also made a public apology about the incident, saying he acted in a “youthful and inappropriate way.” His apology, while simple and honest, sent a strong message to Americans, and maybe even the world.

“Phelps made a point then that reached well-beyond a box of Corn Flakes, when he revealed to the world that smoking marijuana did not affect his ability to excel. It proved that millions of Americans who are recreational drug users who use drugs responsibly can lead normal lives,” says Anthony Papa, Manager of Media & Artist Relations, Drug Policy Alliance, in an article on the Huffington Post.

“We have no way of knowing his drug use beyond the one incident mentioned above, but for the sake of argument, if Phelps could be considered a recreational user, he would be a high-profile example of people who engage in recreational drug use and suffer no adverse effects — other than exposing themselves to criminal penalties due to drug prohibition,” said Papa.

The message was somewhat amplified in 2014, when Phelps was arrested for his second DUI in Maryland. Although he was criticised by many, Anthony Papa argues that he showed the world that, despite all the medals, he is “just a normal human being.”

So Long And Thanks For All The Gold

Today we say goodbye to one of the greatest athletes of our time. But Michael Phelps, the olympic poster boy, was more than just an exceptional swimmer; he was an inspiration to millions and, as Papa said in his article, helped show the world that athletes like him are just normal people.

"Just thinking about everything that’s happened after these 24 years in the sport and being able to walk out like this, I’m proud of, and I wouldn’t have said the same 4 years ago So Ryan may come back in another 4 years, but I’m not." - Michael Phelps, 2016

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michael phelps