Michael Phelps will start the end of his Olympic career with one of the most respected and prized honors as Team USA’s flag bearer for the 2016 Rio Summer Games Opening Ceremony on Friday at Maracana Stadium.
The United States Olympic Committee announced the decision Wednesday morning following a vote by all Team USA members.
Phelps, who’s already claimed a record 22 medals and 18 golds over the last three Olympics, is the first male swimmer to qualify for five games and will compete in three individual events in Rio.
And when the Parade of Athletes begins during the Opening Ceremony, the 31-year-old will lead Team USA out in front of a capacity crowd of 78,000.
“I'm honored to be chosen, proud to represent the U.S., and humbled by the significance of carrying the flag and all it stands for,” Phelps said in a statement. “For Sydney, I just wanted to make the team. For Athens, I wanted to win gold for my country. For Beijing, I wanted to do something nobody else had done. In London, I wanted to make history. And now, I want to walk in the Opening Ceremony, take it all in, represent America in the best possible way and make my family proud. This time around, it's about so much more than medals.”
Traditionally, the honor of flag bearer falls on one of Team USA’s top track and field athletes though at the 2012 London Games fencer Mariel Zagunis led the U.S. contingency. Phelps is the first swimmer since Gary Hall at the 1976 Montreal Games to lead the U.S.
The 2016 Games are the culmination and likely completion of Phelps retirement comeback. Phelps officially retired after competing in London, but in 2014 he announced he would return to the sport he’s dominated for nearly two decades. Phelps is scheduled to compete in the 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley, and the 100-meter butterfly in Rio.
Phelps has openly stated that he wants one more shot to end his Olympic career on a high note.
"Coming back and being able to have the opportunity to finish how I want," Phelps said. "I'm doing this because I wanted to.
"Thinking about the ups and downs we've gone through in and out of the pool to get to this point and not feeling an absolute 100 percent but still being able to get the job done.
"I think things are probably going to hit me a lot more emotionally now than what they would have in the past, because I'm enjoying the moment and I'm embracing the moment."