In 2004 during the Summer Olympics in Athens, an American legend was born. Michael Phelps exploded onto the scene with six gold medals and two bronze for eight medals in his first Olympic games. Twelve years later, he won his 19th gold medal Sunday night in Rio in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.

Phelps was dynamic in his 2004 performances, but it was merely a sign of what was to come over the next four Olympiad.

Fast forward four years. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Phelps was already an American star, but his performance in 2008 made him a name known across the world.

Eight competitions in 2008. Eight golds in 2008.

Phelps could’ve retired after 2008, but he kept going.

The 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Six medals total. Four gold. Two silver.

But those six medals meant so much more. During the 2012 Summer Olympics Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time.

After the 2012 games he had 22 medals to his name: 18 gold, 2 silver, and 2 bronze. The 18 gold medals were double of the next closest on the all-time medal table, Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi, American swimmer Mark Spitz, and American athlete Carl Lewis. Phelps’ 23 total medals were five more than the previous record, Latynina’s total of 18.  He could’ve hung up his suit and goggles and called it a career. Well, that’s what he did albeit temporarily.

After not racing for nearly two years, Phelps jumped back in the pool in April of 2014. The goal? Rio in 2016.

Of course, Phelps’ return in Rio would mean he would be participating in an incredible fourth Olympics, 12 years after his first in Athens. Not to mention, Phelps finished the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Olympics with the most medals among all athletes every time.

That’s partially what led him to his retirement after the 2012 games.

“It’s kind of weird looking at this and seeing ‘Greatest Olympian of All Time,’ ” Phelps said, adding: “I finished my career the way I wanted to. I think that’s pretty cool.”

Phelps in 2004 captured the attention of Americans with his Olympics debut. In 2008 he took over the world with an incredible EIGHT gold medals. In 2012, he cemented his Olympic legacy by becoming the most decorated Olympian EVER.

He could’ve stopped there. He wanted to stop there. He DID stop there. But only for those two years before diving right back in.

Then came the 2016 Rio Olympics. The past four years had been full of wonder and curiosity. Would Phelps really participate? Would he even qualify for the 2016 games? If he did, would there be any way he could add more gold to his resume?

Well he answered those questions on Sunday night by not just participating, but being a deciding factor in his 19th gold medal. Phelps gave the Americans a decisive lead over the French in the second leg of the relay that they would not give up.

He truly is an Olympics legend. The fact that he has more medals 206 countries is just absurd and proof of the kind of athlete he is.

He could’ve stayed retired, but he instead he pulled a Brett Farve. The only difference is Phelps came back and continued to dominate. Luckily for the world, he’s not done yet.

About David Lauterbach

David is a writer for The Comeback. He enjoyed two Men's Basketball Final Four trips for Syracuse before graduating in 2016. If The Office or Game of Thrones is on TV, David will be watching.