For Michael Phelps, Five Is Another Magic Number

OMAHA, Neb. – The simple gesture spoke of a number, and it was appropriate, for matchless numbers have defined so much of Michel Phelps’ swimming career.

This time, the number was a five, which Phelps noted by holding up his left hand and spreading the fingers wide after he won Wednesday night’s 200-meter butterfly final at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming.

It meant Phelps, who turns 31 Thursday, had become the first man to make five U.S. Olympic swim teams.

“God, I’ve been in the sport a long time,” Phelps said.

Michael Phelps' infant son.  Tweet from his sister, Hilary.

Michael Phelps' infant son.  Tweet from his sister, Hilary.

He had been just 15 when he made his first team in 2000, also in the 200 butterfly. He was then the youngest U.S. men’s Olympic swimmer since 1932. Should he win an individual event gold medal at the upcoming Rio Olympic Games, he would be the oldest man ever to do that in the Olympics.

Dara Torres, the only other U.S. swimmer to make five Olympic teams, distinguished herself as the oldest swimmer (41) to win an Olympic medal.

Phelps made the team for what he swears will be a final time with a swim he called harder than any in his life. He did it by going out hard and hoping to hang on, the same way he has managed to hang on and push forward despite a tidal wave of personal drama.