Watch him swim for long enough, and eventually you realize: Michael Phelps is a machine.
Throughout five Summer Olympic games—Sydney, Athens, Beijing, London, and now Rio—America's most decorated swimmer ever (and the most decorated Olympian of all time, for that matter) has carved a path toward domination in the pool. And while Rio might be his swan song, America's elder statesmen of swimming has utterly flown in his races, dismissing rivals like Chad Le Clos and winning five more gold medals—in the 4x100 freestyle relay, the 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley, 4x200 freestyle relay, and the 4x100-meter medley relay—to give him 23 gold medals in his Olympic career.
At 31, Phelps is an elder statesman when it comes to Olympic swimming, but his physical fitness and athletic ability remains top class, and that’s why he continues to win gold.
Here is a look at all of the gold medals Phelps has won in his career:
Phelps won the first gold medal of his illustrious career by setting a world record in the 400m medley in Greece. “The Baltimore Bullet” clocked a time of 4:08.26 to defeat teammate Erik Vendt.
Phelps improved on his performance from the 2000 Sydney Olympics, winning his second gold and adding a new Olympic record with a time of 1:54.04—just short of his own world record in the event from 2003 in Barcelona, Spain.
Partnering with Ryan Lochte, Peter Vanderkaay, and Klete Keller, Phelps took home his third gold medal in Greece with a combined time of 7:07.33—an American record. The group defeated the reigning Australian gold medalists by just 0.13 of a second.
Phelps bested his own Olympic record from the semifinal of this event, setting a new one with a time of 1:57.14 to win his fourth gold medal. Teammate Ryan Lochte finished second in the race to take the silver medal.
In a thrilling race, Phelps set a new Olympic record with a time of 51.25 by defeating the world record holder—teammate Ian Crocker—by only four hundredths of a second (0.04).
Phelps did not swim in the final of this event, but that didn’t stop him from picking up a gold medal. The Baltimore native swam in the heats for the United States team, putting up a time of 52.43 for his part of the medley. The U.S. team of Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, Ian Crocker, and Jason Lezak won gold in the final, but Phelps—as well as teammates Lenny Krayzelburg, Mark Gangloff, and Neil Walker—also received golds for swimming in the preliminary heats.
Phelps continued his Olympic dominance four years later in China, winning his first gold of those Summer Olympics with a world record performance in the 400m medley. Phelps smashed the previous record he set in the U.S. Olympic Trials with a time of 4:03.84—over a second faster than his trials mark.
Phelps’ quest to break Mark Spitz's record for gold medals in a single Olympics was almost over before it really got started. To break the record, Phelps would need gold in all of his events, including the 4x100 relay—an event the Americans had not won in 12 years. Things were looking good to start—the U.S. team had a firm lead—but in the 3rd leg they fell behind, and that’s when Jason Lezak stepped in. In an utterly astounding feat of clutch athleticism, Lezak closed in on world record-holder Alain Bernard of France, overtaking Bernard over the final meters of the race and touching the finish at the anchor time of 46.06—the fastest anchor split in the history of the event. Phelps set an American record for his opening leg in 47.51, and earned another gold medal en route to a world record relay time of 3:08.24.
Phelps had previously won the bronze medal in Athens in the 200m free, but he continued his quest for gold in Beijing by smashing Australian Ian Thorpe’s world record to take his third gold medal in China, besting the previous record by nearly two seconds with a time of 1:42.96.
Swimming blind? No problem for Phelps. The American set a new world record with his time of 1:52.03—besting his previous world and Olympic records—to win gold, despite the fact that his goggles filled up with water during the second lap.
Phelps and teammates Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens, and Peter Vanderkaay shattered their previous world record by nearly five seconds while taking gold with a time of 6:58.56, finishing ahead of Russia and Australia in the event. The win gave Phelps his fifth gold medal in China.
Stop us if this sounds familiar—Phelps smashed his own world record to take his sixth gold medal of the Summer Games in Beijing, finishing with a time of 1:54.23, two seconds faster than Hungary's László Cseh, while Ryan Lochte finished in third place.
In one of the most controversial moments for Phelps in his Olympic career, the American swimmer took home his seventh gold medal in Beijing. Phelps finished just one hundredth of a second (0.01) ahead of Serbia's Milorad Čavić while setting a new Olympic record—a finish so close that the Serbian national team protested the result. After a review, the International Swimming Federation upheld the original result, tying Phelps with Mark Spitz's for the most gold medals in one Olympic Games—and keeping his quest for the record alive.
Phelps set the record for gold medal wins in a single Olympics with this performance—and he needed a little help from his friends. Phelps, Aaron Peirsol, Brendan Hansen, and Jason Lezak shattered their own world record with a combined time of 3:29.34, besting their time from Athens by 1.34 seconds.
Four years after dominating in Beijing, Phelps took the stage in London and continued to add to his record medal haul. His first gold in London came with help from Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer, and Ricky Berens, who combined to finish with a time of 6:59.70, finishing just off of their Olympic record from 2008.
Phelps defeated teammate Ryan Lochte by 0.63 seconds to take the gold medal in this event—his third straight win in the Summer Olympics in the 200m medley. The win gave Phelps his 20th career medal and his 16th gold. Check out the race here, and watch the U.S. Olympic Trials battle between Phelps and Lochte below:
Phelps won this event for the third straight time in his Olympic career, taking home his 17th career gold medal. It wasn't easy, either—Phelps was in seventh place halfway through the race, but overtook the field with some superhuman strokes at the end.
Phelps took home gold in what many thought would be the final race of his Olympic career—Phelps was expected to retire after London, but he later changed his mind and jumped back into the pool for Rio. Phelps, along with teammates Matt Grevers, Brendan Hansen, and Nathan Adrian, finished with a combined time of 3:29.35, just one-hundredth of a second away from their record time in Beijing.
After the French avenged their 2008 loss with a 4x100 victory in London, the international rivalry once again tilted across the Atlantic as Phelps—and teammates Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held, and Nathan Adrian—teamed up to conquer the French by a comfortable margin, 3:09.92 to 3:10.53.
After giving South African rival Chad Le Clos the death stare in the waiting room before their semifinals run in this event, Phelps got in the pool and bested the South African again. Phelps clocked a time of 1:53.36 to take home the gold—while Le Clos finished fourth without a medal.
Phelps started off his Rio run three-for-three with gold medals, including in this event with Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas, and Ryan Lochte. Phelps almost had some head gear issues before getting in the water, but his teammate helped him out—and then they won gold.
The competition didn’t stand a chance. Phelps took home his 13th career individual gold medal in Rio, completely dominating his fellow swimmers while winning the medley event for the fourth straight time. Phelps finished a body length ahead of silver medalist Kosuke Hagino and his time of 1:54.66 was the second best of his entire Olympics career in the event.
— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 12, 2016
Make it 23. Phelps teamed up with Ryan Murphy, Cody Taylor, and Nathan Adrian to set an Olympic record of 3:27:95 in what likely was the final race of his Olympics career. Murphy set a world record with his opening leg of the race, while Phelps pulled the United States into the lead following his third leg before Adrian completed the victory. Phelps finished with five golds in Rio, and also had a three-way tie for silver in the 100-meter butterfly with Chad le Clos and László Cseh.
"It truly is an honor." - @MichaelPhelps #Rio2016 pic.twitter.com/uMYEGs9VQg— NBC Olympics (@NBCOlympics) August 14, 2016