Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history with 25 medals (and counting), is one of the greatest swimmers of all time. He is beloved by millions of Americans who hold their collective breath every time he enters the pool. He has proudly represented the United States for five straight Olympic Games.
So why would Phelps break out laughing during the medal ceremony for the men’s 200-meter butterfly while the national anthem was playing?
He’s a Baltimore Orioles fan, that’s why.
Phelps is a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and never misses an opportunity to tell people that. He loves the city and the city loves him.
And just like any other sports team, the Orioles have many fan traditions. One of these is shouting “O” during the national anthem at their baseball games. I bet you can start to piece the story together now.
Phelps explained to NBC that he had friends from his hometown in the stands that night. Just as Phelps began to get emotional on the podium, his friends and family started shouting. The swimmer looked behind his shoulder to them and busted out laughing. In his interview, he said:
“Back in Maryland, we all say ‘O’ for the Orioles. All of the sudden, I hear them roar ‘O’ and I knew exactly where it came from and I just lost it.”
One of the shouters was long-time friend Brian Shae, who told Baltimore Magazine after the race:
“I told Michael I’d give him at least one ‘O’ just like I did in London. I was close enough that I knew he would hear me without cameras picking it up. I honestly didn’t think I’d get him cracking up, but I knew he’d have fun with it. It’s something all of us in Baltimore know well and it was my way of saying that everyone back home is behind you.
“Michael is proud of where he comes from just like all of us. The ‘O’ is our city’s big mysterious shout out. We’re an exclusive club and I know Michael is proud to be a part of it.”
Phelps has claimed two other gold medals in Rio so far: one in the 4×100 freestyle relay, and one in the 4×200 freestyle relay. He will have three more chances at gold in the 100 butterfly, 200 individual medley, and 4×100 medley relay.
For all those proud Baltimore residents out there, the Baltimore Ravens NFL team will be broadcasting Phelps’ 200 individual medley final tonight during their preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium.
Phelps has a chance to break a record for the most individual Olympic wins, set over 2,160 years ago. The 200 butterfly tied him with runner Leonidas of Rhodes, who competed between 164 and 152 BC.
If there was ever any doubt, breaking this record would surely cement Phelps’ place in history as one of the greatest athletes of all time.