As the country’s most successful Olympic athlete with 22 medals – 18 of them gold – he is an obvious choice for the honor – which was decided by a vote from his fellow athletes – given this is believed to be his final Olympics. It is also notice that his team-mates may not care too much about past transgressions: in recent years, Phelps has been arrested for driving while intoxicated and also photographed holding a water pipe that could be used for smoking marijuana.
Each high-profile incident blemished his once golden reputation, but Phelps has apologized for the DUI and has spoken about maturing and becoming more focused as an athlete.
Flag bearers are typically chosen for either elite performance or leadership. In recent years, the US bearers have been more anonymous athletes; fencer Mariel Zagunis was selected in 2012, two Olympics after she became the first American to win a gold in that sport in 100 years. And in 2008, the honor was bestowed on track athlete Lopez Lomong, a former Sudanese “lost boy” who became a US citizen the year prior.
Phelps, on the other hand, won eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, then won another four at London in 2012. He qualified for his fifth Olympics last month, making him only the second US swimmer to do so. He will compete in the 200m butterfly, 200m individual relay and 100m butterfly in Rio.
He is the second US swimmer to carry the flag at an opening ceremony, after Gary Hall in 1976.
This article was written by Les Carpenter in Rio de Janeiro, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 3rd August 2016 14.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010