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After Years of Highs and Lows, Phelps Gets Last Shot at Olympics

FILE - Michael Phelps poses with his gold medal for the 4x100m medley relay during a news conference with his sponsors at the London 2012 Olympic Games, August 5, 2012.

For U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps, the Rio Olympics represent a chance to end his record-breaking career on his own terms.

No one has won more than his 18 gold medals or the eight he won in a single Olympics in 2008 in Beijing. But his golden image took a hit after the 2012 Olympics in London with two arrests for driving drunk. He stepped way from swimming and into a rehab program before returning to the pool to train for Rio.

On Wednesday, he became the first American male swimmer to qualify for five Olympics by winning the 200 meter butterfly at the U.S. Olympic trials.

"Being able to make my fifth is something that means a lot to me, and I think 20 years from now I'll be able to look and be happy with that decision to come back," Phelps said. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to represent my country at the Olympic games."

The 31-year-old swimmer holds three world records, but those all came during his peak, with the last being set in August 2009. Phelps acknowledged it has been a while since he was setting records, but he said he believes any record can be beat.

"It's been a hell of a long time since I've got a best time," he said. "I'd like to have maybe one before I retire. I hope we can get at least one in the next four weeks or so."

When the Rio games begin in early August, Phelps will be joined on the U.S. swim team by Allison Schmitt, another athlete who brought home gold medals from London but struggled personally in the years after.

For Schmitt, it was depression that included suicidal thoughts. It was not until her cousin committed suicide that she publicly sought help. She qualified for Rio on Wednesday after placing fourth in the 200 meter freestyle, which she won in 2012.

"I'm going to Rio," Schmitt said. "It's been a tough four years, but I'm so happy right now."

She and Phelps are friends, and he was one of the people who reached out to play a supportive role in her recovery.

"I'm so proud of everything that she's been able to overcome and things she's been able to do," Phelps said. "I've watched her go through some ups and downs, and for her to be able to make the team, her third one, I think is very impressive."

Katie Ledecky smiles after winning the women's 200-meter freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 29, 2016.
Katie Ledecky smiles after winning the women's 200-meter freestyle final at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials in Omaha, Neb., Wednesday, June 29, 2016.

The breakout star of the Rio games may be 19-year-old Katie Ledecky. She won a surprise gold in the 800 meter freestyle in 2012 and has since set the world records in that event and two others. At last year's world championships, she won five gold medals, but she said Wednesday she is not focusing on the prospect of challenging German swimmer Kristin Otto's record of six golds at a single Olympics.

"I don't think about who I'm chasing or any of the historical implications," Ledecky said. "Just watching all of the races in London I was inspired by all of my teammates and wanted to get in there and race, and it's pretty cool now that I'll be a lot busier in Rio."

The U.S. team will also feature Missy Franklin, a four-time gold medalist at the last Olympics. One of those wins came in the 100 meter backstroke, but she failed to qualify in that event after finishing seventh at the trials on Tuesday night. She rebounded Wednesday with a second place finish in the 200 meter freestyle to claim her spot in Rio.

"That was probably the most proud race of my entire career," Franklin said. "I was telling myself I'm not done fighting."