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Michael Phelps caps Olympic career with gold

Leave it to Michael Phelps to embody a difficult bit of hip-hop self-help advice: Stay in your own lane.

It's a thorny concept about believing in yourself, in your own plan, in your own timing. It's an idea that a hip-hop head like Phelps can embrace – you know best. Maybe it's what he and his hero Lil Wayne tweet about, when Weezy isn't singing Phelps' praises.

Phelps, in tonight's 100-meter butterfly, which he says is his final Olympic individual race, showed that staying in your own lane actually works. It should be noted, though, that staying in your own lane doesn't mean you don't have to put in the work, like one of those “American Idol” tryouts who believe they are singers without, you know, practicing.

In his dramatic individual career-closer, Phelps was the last one off the starting blocks. He was second-last at the halfway point. Ordinary folks would start to panic, looking around and seeing everyone passing them by. Of course, Phelps, who has won the most Olympic medals ever, is far from ordinary and simply sticks to his game plan. And, of course, as Phelps has done 16 times before, he was the winner.

Yesterday, Phelps made history by becoming the first swimmer to win the same event in three consecutive Olympics, beating his American rival Ryan Lochte in the 200-meter individual medley. Tonight, he completed another “three-peat” in the 100-meter butterfly.

That's an incredible feat, but what may be more inspiring was what happened after he got out of the pool. He was grinning from ear to ear, talking about the future of swimming in the United States. (America's swimming futures looked extra bright, as new stars 17-year-old Missy Franklin and 15-year-old Katie Ledecky notched victories of their own.) He has gone through an incredibly successful, intense career and come out the other side still able to smile.

“We've been able to take this sport to a whole new level,” he said. “I think that's something that's been pretty cool for me to be a part of.”

Phelps is clearly ready to step aside, ready to end his swimming career and lead a more normal life. Good for him. Sometimes, staying in your own lane means knowing when it's time to get out.

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