RIO DE JANEIRO • At his fifth Olympics, Michael Phelps finally let his guard down after winning a 19th gold medal by helping the United States win the men's 4x100m freestyle relay on Sunday.
With his infant son Boomer watching from the stands, cradled in the arms of his mother, Phelps' fiancee Nicole Johnson, the greatest Olympian of all time shed a tear after two teammates, Ryan Held and Caeleb Dressel, broke down.
"They were making us cry," Phelps said. "The younger guys started crying, I started crying."
Already far and away the most decorated Olympian of all time, Phelps showed that he had lost none of his speed or killer instinct after coming out of a brief retirement to provide Team USA with their first win in the event since Beijing 2008, narrowly holding off France and Australia.
Swimming second in the relay, Phelps took over from Dressel, just 0.02 second behind France and in a few powerful strokes, the 31-year-old gave his team the lead.
"Caeleb wanted to get out in open water, lead us off and the only thing I said to them (was), 'I'm going to try and get you guys as much open water as I can'," said Phelps.
"I know how hard it is to swim in the wake in that race and I was going to do whatever I could to get them out (in) front."
Held increased the lead and London individual 100m freestyle champion Nathan Adrian brought them home as the chants of "USA!" "USA!" rose to a crescendo.
"It was crazy. I was standing on the block while Caeleb was coming in and I honestly thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest," said Phelps, who clocked a personal best 47.12sec. He was the second-fastest American swimmer behind Adrian (46.97sec) as the US stopped the clock in 3:09.92.
"Having the amount of excitement (and) cheering that was in the stands during that race - I don't know if I've heard anything like it," said Phelps.
"We wanted that race back so badly. My last 400 free relay ever, it feels damn good to get a win."
Defending champions France took the silver in 3:10.53, while Australia claimed the bronze in 3:11.37.
Phelps collected his 23rd Olympic medal with the US men having won a medal in every Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay since the event was introduced in 1964.
He now has a joint-record fourth medal in this event after also winning gold in 2008, silver in 2012 and bronze in 2004.
Former teammate Jason Lezak has a gold, two silvers and a bronze from 4x100m free races from 2000 to 2012.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS