Michael Phelps’ potential record chases at Rio Olympics

Michael Phelps
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There are still Olympic medal records Michael Phelps has yet to break.

A Phelps medal record chase became a major storyline at the last three Olympics.

In Athens and Beijing, he entered eight events and was synonymous with U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz, who won a record seven gold medals at the Munich 1972 Olympics.

Phelps won six gold medals and two bronze medals in Athens and then surpassed Spitz with eight golds in Beijing.

In London, Phelps needed to win three medals of any color to overtake Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most career medals.

Phelps won six, taking his total to 22 medals, four more than Latynina.

But Phelps is still chasing Latynina in another regard. Latynina still holds the record for most medals won in individual events.

Latynina won 14 individual medals. Phelps is on 13 (with nine relay medals).

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Could Phelps win two individual medals in Rio?

He was the world’s fastest 100m butterfly swimmer last year and third-fastest in the 200m individual medley.

He was not among the world’s fastest swimmers in the 100m or 200m freestyles last year (granted he took a year off of training after London) and has only recently resumed swimming the 200m fly.

Phelps is also chasing two of the greatest U.S. track and field athletes of all time. Al Oerter (discus) and Carl Lewis (long jump) share the record for consecutive Olympic titles in the same individual event at four*.

Phelps has won the 100m fly and 200m IM at each of the last three Olympics.

Phelps’ competition in the 100m fly no longer includes longtime rivals Ian Crocker and Milorad Cavic, both retired. However, South African Chad le Clos, who beat Phelps for 200m fly gold in London, has the fastest 100m fly time since the 2012 Olympics.

In the 200m IM, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino and Ryan Lochte were both faster than Phelps last year.

In another category, Phelps is chasing his 2004 Olympic teammate Jenny Thompson.

Thompson holds the record for most Olympic medals and gold medals in team/relay events with 10 and eight, respectively. Phelps has won nine relay medals, including seven golds.

The U.S. should be among the top nations in the 4x100m free relay in Rio (an elite group that could be more than three). The U.S. is more likely to win gold in the 4x200m free relay and 4x100m medley relay at this point, which Phelps and Co. won at each of the last three Olympics.

Of course, Phelps has to qualify to make those relay teams. The simplest way to do that would be as one of the six-fastest U.S. men in the 100m and 200m frees in 2016 and finishing first or second in the 100m fly at the Olympic trials.

*Denmark’s Paul Elvstroem won four straight individual Olympic golds in sailing, but his one-person event changed from a Firefly boat to the Finn during his streak. Thanks to Olympic historian Bill Mallon for passing that note along.