During her son's first 16 gold-medal performances, Debbie Phelps celebrated in every way imaginable: She yelled, she cried, she hugged, she pointed, she screamed. Whatever her specific reaction was, the overall tone was one of exuberance. Even when he doesn't win, Debbie can be demonstrative. She prematurely celebrated earlier this week before being told by her daughters that her son had lost on the last stroke.
Michael Phelps won his final individual Olympic race on Friday night, coming from behind to take the gold for the third straight time in the 100 butterfly. And when it was over, Debbie Phelps, the single mother who drove her son to 4 a.m. swim practices and followed him all over the world while still working as a middle school principal, didn't holler or jump or embrace. She sat down and leaned her head on the railing, a probable mixture of relief and happiness, with a tinge of nostalgia.
Friday was the beginning of the end of a glorious period in the life of the Phelps family. Other than a perfunctory, career-capping race in the 4x100 medley relay on Saturday night -- a race in which the Americans are heavily favored -- Michael Phelps' Olympic career is over. He insists he's done after this meet.
The Phelps family matriarch respects her son's decision, even if she's tried to playfully nudge him in the other direction. Rio de Janeiro in July is a lovely place to be, after all. But to look at her reaction after this race, Debbie Phelps believes her son. And if this was his final individual race, it wasn't a bad way to go out.
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