With the figure of Michelangelo’s David and the speed of a Ferrari, swimmer Michael Phelps isn’t just one of the greatest athletes of the era. He’s one of the best human history has ever seen, and he has the rapidly-growing cache of Olympic medals to prove it.
Phelps currently holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals, Olympic gold medals in individual events, and Olympic medals in individual events. He holds multiple world records in butterfly and freestyle. He has earned the World Swimmer of the Year Award seven times and American Swimmer of the Year Award nine times. Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year in 2008.
Now in Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Phelps shows no signs of slowing down. His win in the 200 metre butterfly made him the oldest man to win individual swimming gold, breaking a 96-year-old record set by Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku in 1920, as well as the first person to win individual swimming gold in Olympic games 12 years apart.
And then there’s this: with the win of his 13th individual gold medal, Phelps broke a 2,168 year-old Olympic record set by Leonidas of Rhodes in the second century BC. Leonidas had 12.
In honor of Michael Phelps’ incomparable career, we’ve gathered 5 inspiring facts about the swimmer.
#1 He Used To Be Scared Of Swimming
Phelps began swimming at the tender age of seven, partly because his two older sisters were doing it, and partly to burn off the extra energy that came courtesy of his ADHD. He wasn’t Neptune’s obvious successor. Terrified to put his head underwater, Phelps began his pool career by floating around on his back. When his training began in earnest, backstroke was the first stroke he mastered.
#2 He Broke A World Record At 15
At the 2001 Spring Nationals, Phelps broke the record for 200-metre fly at just 15 years, nine months. It made him the youngest man to set a world record. He’d also set a national record for his age group in the 100-metre fly at age 10.
#3 He Still Holds Multiple National Records For Age-Group Events
Phelps is so unbeatable in the pool that he still holds 12 national records for age-group events, all of which he set in his teens. They may not be as impressive as Olympic golds, but we all have to start somewhere. And speaking of the Olympics…
#4 He’s The Most Decorated Athlete In Olympic History
At the age of 27, during the 2012 Olympics in London, Phelps earned the 19th medal of his career and the most of any Olympian ever. And after breaking that record, he broke his own record, earning three more medals in London. Now competing in Rio, and coming out of retirement to do so, Phelps has brought that total up to a staggering 26 (22 gold, 2 silver, 2 bronze). He is also the most decorated Olympian in individual events, with 15 medals (13 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze).
#5 He’s The Fifth-Richest Olympic Athlete Ever
Winning big pays big. Phelps’ success has paid off to the tune of millions, making him the wealthiest Olympic swimmer by a wide margin and the fifth wealthiest Olympic athlete of any kind. His current net worth is US$55 million.