A stunner at the Rio Olympics: Michael Phelps was beaten.
Rather handily at that.
The most decorated athlete in Olympic history couldn’t pull off one of his patented comebacks in the 100-meter butterfly, easily held off by a swimmer a decade younger.
Twenty-one-year-old Joseph Schooling of Singapore got off to a blistering start, building a lead that not even Phelps could overcome.
And now, no means no. No amount of cajoling, arm-twisting and pleading by his team mates and swimming fans around the world will make Phelps change his mind about retiring after Rio.
The great American swimmer made that abundantly clear after winning the 27th Olympic medal of his career, a three-way dead-heat silver in the men’s 100 metres butterfly.
After winning four gold medals at these games and looking unbeatable, Phelps finally ran out of steam in what appeared his final individual race.
The 31-year-old Phelps still has a chance to leave Rio with 23 golds in his career. But he’ll have to do with some help from his teammates, swimming in the butterfly leg of the 400 medley relay on the final night of swimming Saturday.
On Saturday, Phelps wound up in a three-way tie for silver along with two longtime rivals, Chad le Clos of South Africa and Laszlo Cseh of Hungary. They all touched in 51.14 — a half-body length behind Schooling’s winning time of 50.39.
“A three-way tie is pretty wild,” Phelps said. “Joe is tough. Hats off to him, he swam a great race. It’s kind of special and a decent way to finish my last individual race.”
Phelps quickly swam over to congratulate Schooling, who seemed stunned by what he had done.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Schooling said. “I’m sorry if I don’t seem like I’m full of emotions right now. I don’t know what to believe, like, whether I actually did it or I’m still preparing for my race.”
Phelps, he added, is “a guy that will go down in our history books as the greatest of all time of any sport. I’m just honored and glad to have that moment and that privilege to race alongside Michael and Chad and all those guys.”
“No,” Phelps said as the question was still leaving the journalist’s lips, a succession of further ‘no’s following in close succession.
“I’ve been able to do everything I’ve ever put my mind to in this sport. And 24 years in the sport. I’m happy with how things finished.”
Phelps said in 2012 he was retiring but he came back for one last hurrah after feeling he wanted to bow out on his own terms.
“I’m ready to retire. I’m happy about it. I’m in a better state of mind this time than I was four years ago. And yeah. I’m ready to spend some time with (baby son) Boomer and (fiancee) Nicole.”
The man of the moment
Schooling idolised the swimming great when he was growing up. He even got a chance to meet him as a starstruck 13-year-old.
Schooling, 21, won in an Olympic record time of 50.39 seconds. The Singaporean was 0.75 seconds ahead from the trio of Phelps, South Africa’s Chad Le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh.
Even before the gold, Schooling was being celebrated in his native Singapore. Schooling beat Phelps in his semfinal heat on Thursday night, a “victory” that caused people back home to hail their native son as an Olympic hero.
Now that Schooling is bringing Singapore the nation’s first Olympic gold medal, the celebration figures to get much, much bigger.