To represent your country at the Olympics is an incredible privilege and personal achievement. To win a medal, for most, is a life long dream come true. To win more than one medal or appear at more than one Olympics is the sort of accomplishment that makes you remembered as one of the greatest athletes ever. To win 23 gold medals and appear at five different Olympics is a record that may never be broken and likely places you as the greatest athlete of all time.
Michael Phelps is that athlete. Phelps represented his country at the 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and the 2016 Olympics. To represent your country at such a prestigious event over a span of 16 years is an astonishing record. He represented his country at the age of 15 and at the age of 31. The reality is that if Phelps wanted to do he could probably have represented his country at the 2020 Olympics as well but family life took over.
Phelps first featured in the Olympics at the age of 15. While he did not win a medal there were already clear signs of what was to come. He made the finals of the 200m butterfly and finished fifth in the race. In the next year, he would break the record of the 200m butterfly at the age of 15 and 9 months. The next Olympics in 2004 could not come quickly enough.
He won six gold medals at the 2004 Olympics, eight at the 2008 games, and four at the 2012 Olympics. He then came out of retirement for the 2016 Olympics and won five gold medals.
To think that this athlete has set such a record of 23 golds that it will likely never be beaten is insane. It is even crazier when you consider that if timing been more on his side he could have hit 30 gold medals. Had the Olympics fallen a year later in 2009 Phelps would have certainly won gold in the 200m and likely other races. Similarly, if he had the motivation and desire he likely could have competed in one more Olympics in 2020. Yet the man has done more than enough to forever have his name as the greatest Olympian there ever was.