There were plenty of stories going into the 2016 Summer Olympics. The quickest guy in the world was running the Olympic track for the last time, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was looking to make a huge statement, people worried about Zika and crime, and all the other things that could go wrong over the two weeks in Brazil.
Michael Phelps was going to show up, and all that, likely win a couple more gold medals, and then swim away into the sunset or whatever the finest Olympian is supposed to do. That was the guy with a room filled with gold medals, the plan was going to show us how it was done one last time.
Of course he has. Phelps has claimed three more medals, bringing his count to an astonishing 23. He also gave us a meme.
Yet somehow, perhaps because so much of the focus was on one single swimmer this Olympics have been made by the whole American swim team as an unit about them. From Lilly King turning a finger wave into a gold medal in the 100-meter breaststroke, to Phelps teaming with Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas and a bleach haired Ryan Lochte to win the 4x200m freestyle relay, to Katie Ledecky making her own bid for Olympic immortality, simply commanding the 400-meter freestyle, winning a gold and breaking world records along the way. Then last night, Ledecky another gold with the women’s team, this time in the 4×200 freestyle relay. All told, the U.S. swimmers have claimed medals in 18 of the 20 events so far. That’s the type of entire team dominance spread all across a sport that you just do not get to see quite frequently.
With yesterday’s victory, Ledecky, together with the remainder of her team members, Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith and Maya DiRado, included another reason why the American program is heads and tails above the rest, but it was Ledecky closing out the success that revealed exactly how amazing she truly is. With the Americans trailing after the first three legs, it was Ledecky who chased down the Tamsin Cook, then pulled away so far that there was the span of another swimmer between silver and gold of Australia. It was a team effort, but ultimately it was going lights out that demonstrated yet again that in 2016, the American swim team is performing on a level we scarcely see from teams in any sport. And while Phelps retiring will leave a huge hole, the future is still very bright.