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It Was A Gold Day For The USA In Rio Summer Olympics

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The United States is dominating the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and it was particularly golden yesterday, especially in the pool. Swimmer Michael Phelps continues to wow everyone. He won is 22nd career gold medal and a first-time gold medalist set another swimming record for the U.S. From swimming to gymnastics to even the rugby field, we have got NPR's sports correspondent Tom Goldman on the line from Rio to talk about all of it. Good morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) Lucky you, hello.

MONTAGNE: Where do we start? Michael Phelps, I guess.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, I would say he's unavoidable at this point. He won the 200-meter individual medley last night, and he became the first swimmer to win this race in four straight Olympics. And his time last night was only 43 hundredths of a second slower than his Olympic record time, and he set that in 2008, so he is turning back the clock.

MONTAGNE: Oh, God. It's amazing. I mean, how exactly is he doing this?

GOLDMAN: You mean how has he won four gold medals at these games and looked like a 20-year-old Michael Phelps instead of his true age of 31? Well, he decided he wanted to go out right, so he committed to training diligently, not like he had in the past where he says he'd look to cut corners. He put himself totally in the hands of his longtime coach Bob Bowman. And together, they have produced this guy in Rio who says he's going to retire after this, but he sure doesn't look like he's ready. And the only hint that Phelps is human at this point is he says he's in a lot of pain and he's tired. But he also loves climbing that podium and hearing the national anthem.

MONTAGNE: And he still has one more race to go.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Tonight will probably be his final individual Olympic event, the 100-meter butterfly. You kind of figure tonight will be special, like the big finish in a Fourth of July fireworks display.

MONTAGNE: OK. Well, Michael Phelps was not, as I've just suggested, the only American to make headlines from a performance in the pool. Talk to us about that other winner.

GOLDMAN: Yeah. That was Simone Manuel. She is 20, and she won a co-gold medal, actually, with 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak. They tied, actually, for first in the 100-meter freestyle. Now, Manuel is the first African-American female swimmer to win a gold medal. That's the record she set. And there aren't a lot of black swimmers at this level and Manuel knows it. She says she's glad she can be an inspiration to others and hopefully diversify the sport. But she also looks forward to the day when there is more diversity and she is not labeled Simone the black swimmer. And here she is last night after her win talking about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SIMONE MANUEL: The title black swimmer makes it seem like I'm not supposed to be able to win a gold medal or I'm not supposed to be able to break records, and that's not true because I work just as hard as anybody else, and I love the sport. And I want to win just like everybody else (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Now, Renee, in fact, Simone Manuel has won two gold medals at these games and not bad for her first Olympics.

MONTAGNE: And she wasn't the only Simone to win gold yesterday. There's a, I must say, a far more famous Simone - Biles - the gymnast did not disappoint. She won the gold in the individual all-around competition.

GOLDMAN: Yes, she absolutely did. And, you know, this is her first Olympics. She was too young to compete in London four years ago. And she's coming out with a bang. She came into Rio with huge expectations. She was touted as potentially the greatest gymnast ever. And if she felt burdened by that, she sure hasn't shown it. She has won two gold medals and more are certain to come. And she's just a dazzling performer with her speed and her precision. And the other notable story out of that all-around last night is that the U.S. actually finished 1-2. Aly Raisman won silver.

MONTAGNE: You know, may I mention here, Tom, there are other countries who won gold medals (laughter). Any interesting ones?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, just a few. Well, one that I love was rugby. It's the first time the game's been in the Olympics since 1924. That's a 92-year absence. And Fiji won the men's gold medal yesterday. Fiji waxed England 43 to 7. And then the Fijian team stood in a circle and sang. This was their country's first-ever Olympic medal. And it was fitting because rugby is really important to the culture of Fiji. The Guardian newspaper quoted Fiji's coach who said, there are two religions in Fiji. On Sunday, there's church and no sport. But every other day there's rugby.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Tom Goldman at the Rio Olympics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.