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Phelps swims his way to a fifth Olympics

Europe
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New York (dpa) - Michael Phelps has swum his way into the history books, becoming the first American male swimmer to qualify for five Olympic Games.

The 31-year-old holds 22 Olympic medals - 18 of them gold - and he secured his ticket to Rio de Janeiro in August with victory in the 200m butterfly at the US Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska, on Wednesday.

Phelps clocked up a time of 1 minute 54:84 seconds, three seconds shy of his 2009 world record in the event, but his muted celebrations - he calmly held up five fingers - perhaps betrayed the humility of a man who has fought hard to overcome personal demons.

After retiring from swimming following the London Olympics in 2012, Phelps struggled with alcohol problems and was sentenced to 18 months‘ supervised probation after pleading guilty to drink-driving in 2014.

While waiting to be sentenced, he underwent a 45-day treatment programme for alcohol abuse at an Arizona rehabilitation centre and emerged determined to get back into swimming.

"I was able to find out a lot about myself I never knew," Phelps said of his time in rehab. "I‘m looking at a much brighter future than I have had in the past."

The US Olympic trials are an unforgiving environment in which past glories count for nothing. The rules are simple: the first two in an event board the plane to Rio, the rest stay at home and watch the Games on television.

With his seven-week-old baby son Boomer and fiancee Nicole Johnson looking on, Phelps held off the challenge of Tom Shields to finish first and the crowd roared its approval.

"That means the most tonight," Phelps said. "With everything that‘s happened, being able to come back, that‘s probably harder than any swim I‘ve had in my life."

Shields, 24, finished second to qualify for his first Olympics. In the women‘s events, Missy Franklin, who won four gold medals at the 2012 Olympics in London, made certain of her place in Rio by coming second to Katie Ledecky in the 200m freestyle.

Nine-times world champion Ledecky is the form swimmer going into the Games. She also took first place in the 400m freestyle and is tipped to bring home a clutch of medals from Brazil.

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