Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Amazing Mr. Phelps and the Lightning Bolt

Michael Phelps after winning the 4 x 100 meter relay (Getty Images)

There is no doubt now that Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time. His quest for eight gold medals at one Olympics and his total of 16 medals, 14 of them gold, has put him squarely in a class by himself. I cheered him on race by race as he broke one record after another until, with the help of his teammates, he secured his goal late tonight. It took 36 years for Mark Spitz's single Olympics record to fall and I believe that this new level of achievement will never again be surpassed in my lifetime. There are just too many variables at play and too many obstacles in the way for this feat to be repeated. As more than one person has pointed out, Spitz won his seven medals in 1972 by his command of just two specific swimming strokes, namely the butterfly and the freestyle. To Phelps' credit he accomplished his five individual gold medals and three relays by his additional mastery of the breaststroke and backstroke and managed to break seven world records in doing so. Let's not forget that his goggles filled with water when he swam the 200 meter butterfly event, essentially blinded, but he still managed to not only win, but to establish a new world record in the process. That shows his ability to take lemons and make lemonade. There were plenty of close calls that would have upended Phelps' quest for eight gold medals in 17 swims, but with strength, stamina and a bit of luck, he followed success with more success. While Phelps can rest now and enjoy the remainder of the Olympics, one can only question what the next Olympiad in London will bode for Phelps, whose Olympic legacy will inspire legions of kids in the same way that Spitz inspired Phelps. Only I don't see anyone ever coming close to what Phelps did. As the most decorated Olympian ever, Phelps will continue to rewrite the record books with each succeeding medal performance. I am in absolute awe and I defy anyone to argue against his greatness.
As great as Phelps has been in the water, Usain Bolt from Jamaica has been on the track. He firmly established himself as the fastest man in the world with an unbelievable performance in the 100-meter dash in just 9.69 seconds, beating his own previous world record of 9.72 seconds. More records are sure to fall with Bolt eyeing Michael Johnson's 19.32 seconds 200-meter mark. Keep an eye out for this lightning fast Bolt.

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