It didn't take a miraculous comeback this time.
The United States was a stunning winner of the men's 4x100m freestyle relay on Sunday night, led by Michael Phelps' blazing 47.12 split as the second leg, in which he hit the turn in second place and somehow emerged from his underwater with a half-body-length lead. Nathan Adrian's hammering anchor leg held off the French team that knocked the U.S. off the top of the podium in London.
That's gold medal No. 19 for Phelps and medal No. 23 overall, both of which push the swimming star's unbreakable Olympic record even further into the stratosphere. With five more races and five more medals in his future, that record might be in the solar system by the time the swimming competition ends in Rio.
Australia had entered the race as a heavy favorite and most had chalked up the Americans for a silver, at best. Wait, Michael Phelps was an underog? The greatest swimmer ever? Indeed. The U.S. team was expected to be great (a silver medal is nothing to sneeze at) but looking at the times of the lineups, Team Australia had the clear edge. In the end, they would only narrowly squeeze into bronze-medal position.
How did it happen? Olympic rookie Caeleb Dressel took it out with a best time and touched in second after the first leg. Then, at the 175-meter mark, Phelps took the lead and touched with the U.S. up by a half-second. Ryan Held lived up to his name, holding off Australian star James Magnussen and by the time reigning 100 freestyle gold medalist Nathan Adrian hit the water, the only thing that could have stopped the U.S. from gold was Jason Lezak, who had that miracle swim to save Phelps' eight-gold quest in Beijing. That comeback? It came against the French.
Ever since Olympic trials and continuing until hours before the relay on Sunday night, there had been talk about whether men's coach Bob Bowman, who has been Phelps' personal coach for almost two decades, would include the 31-year-old on the team. He scratched the 100 free at those trials and hadn't necessarily proved he had the bonafides to earn his spot.
Yeah, right. You don't leave Superman on the bench in you biggest battle (or whatever the equivalent would be in the Marvel universe). The whole "controversy" was hilariously trumped up like there any doubt Phelps wouldn't be on that team. And, of course, he showed he earned it.
The only time the U.S. had won this race in the Olympics this century was in that famed comeback in 2008. The Aussies, French and South Africans had won the other three, all in narrow fashion. In comparison, Team USA's win - with two rookies, no less - was a veritable blowout.
"We wanted to bring that relay back to American soil," an invigorated Phelps told NBC. "We had some sour taste in our mouth from 2012 and I'm glad that's back on our soil."