Michael Phelps could win two or three individual gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and again return home as America’s top swimmer, former U.S. swimming great John Naber believes.
Already the most decorated Olympian of all-time with 18 gold medals, Phelps’ return to competition after a two-year retirement was greeted with apprehension and skepticism but the tide has quickly turned.
While no one expects Phelps to come close to his eight gold medal haul at the 2008 Beijing Games or the six he swept four years earlier in Athens, Naber believes he could match or even better his haul from London where he stood atop the podium four times.
“He’ll come home, if not America’s most decorated swimmer, one of the top three,” an assured Naber told during a break in United States Olympic Committee General Assembly meetings on Thursday. “I think he can win individual gold medals, I think he can win two or three individual races and a couple of relays.”
“I expect he will win four or five medals, the fact that he swims for the United States if he makes those relays teams those medals are going to be coming,” said Naber, a five-time Olympic medalist, including four gold from the 1976 Montreal Games.
Since Phelps first tested the comeback waters at a low key meet in Phoenix in April progress has been steady rather than his usual spectacular.
He has had to deal with the unfamiliar sting of losing and re-calibrating his own sky-high standards.
But the results and times have slowly improved through the U.S. nationals and his international return to competition at the Pan Pacific championships in Australia in August where he finished with gold medals in the 100 butterfly, 4×200 and medley relays as well as silvers in the 200 individual medley and the 4×100 relay.
The 100m butterfly is one of two individual events that Phelps won at three successive Olympics.
If he qualifies for the event at Rio, he will automatically make the U.S. men`s medley relay team, which has never been beaten at the Olympics.