It is not very often that people can say that they witnessed the greatest ever in anything, let alone in sports. Well folks, if you are like most Americans, you got swept up in the hysteria surrounding Michael Phelps; and the kid delivered. To channel my inner Dick Vitale: 22 medals, 18 gold: ARE YOU SERIOUS?? Michael Phelps is serious, and the most decorated Olympian of all-time ended his career this evening the only way he knows how, with yet another gold medal.
Michael Phelps competed in four Olympic Games: Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and London 2012. He starred in three of those four Games. The 27-year old has been one of the United States best swimmers since he was 15 years old. That year he became the youngest male Olympic swimmer in the history of USA Swimming, and less than 11 months after those Olympic Games he set his first of many world records by breaking the 200-meter butterfly record in trials for the 2001 World Championships. At those World Championships in 2001 he became a World Champion for the first time and broke his own record in that event, and little did people know it was just the beginning of a career that will probably never be equaled.
Everyone knows what he did during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but some people might not realize how incredible he was in Athens in ’04. There haven’t been too many Olympics where any individual has ever won 6 gold medals and that is exactly what Phelps did during his summer in Greece. That summer he set Olympic Records in the 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly, 200-meter individual medley, 400-meter individual medley, and also as a part of the 4×100-meter medley. The 400-meter medley and the 4×100 medley were also World Record times in addition to Olympic records. Phelps also won gold as a part of the 4×200-meter freestyle relay, and he also earned bronze in the 200-meter freestyle and the 4×100 meter freestyle relay. That in itself would be a fantastic Olympics, but he went ahead and did that again in 2008 and one more time in 2012.
In 2008, with all of America watching, Phelps went a perfect 8 for 8. He set an Olympic Record in the 100-meter butterfly, and then in every other event he performed he set a World Record or was at least a key member of a World Record achieving relay. Phelps owned the 200-meter butterfly, the 200-meter freestyle, the 200-meter IM, 400-meter IM, 4×100-meter freestyle relay, 4×200-meter relay, and the 4×100-meter relay. Anyone who watched the 2008 Olympics came away impressed with what Phelps accomplished during those Games, and his sponsorships and bankroll certainly increased accordingly. Even if Phelps hadn’t decided to compete in the 2012 Olympics, he already would have been one of the best American athletes of all-time, but of course he did decide to represent his country in one final Olympics.
In January 2009 it wasn’t a certainty that Phelps would come back for one more Olympics, though. A tabloid and top-selling British newspaper, News of the World, published a photo of someone who looked just like Phelps holding a bong, a piece of paraphernalia sold for tobacco use only but used primarily for marijuana. The picture immediately went viral, and while it wasn’t a perfect photo it was still pretty clear that it was Phelps smoking. Less than a week after the picture became public, Phelps did admit that it was him, and that it was weed that he was smoking. At the time Phelps said, “I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated ad judgment. I’m 23 years old and despite the successes I’ve had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner people have come to expect from me. For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public it will not happen again.” Of course, what Phelps meant that is that he wouldn’t be stupid and ignorant enough to let somebody take a picture of him in that compromising position again, and to his credit it hasn’t happened since and with is icon status cemented now I don’t expect it to happen again now that his Olympic career is over, either.
After that episode, Phelps was suspended from competitive swimming for three months by USA Swimming who said that their intent was to send Phelps a “strong message” that the governing body did not approve of his behavior. USA Swimming also withheld financial support for Phelps during that suspension, which was more of a symbolic gesture since he was already swimming (pardon the pun) in endorsements by then. Yes, he did lose sponsorships because of the photo, but the kid was still doing pretty well for himself.
That leads us to London 2012; Phelps last hurrah. The old man took it easy, competing in just 7 events this time. After failing to medal in his first race, the 400-meter individual medley, some people thought he might be done and that Ryan Lochte might be the face of USA Swimming in 2012. It was the first time that Phelps had failed to medal since 2000, so I could see why some people thought it might be the end of the road. Boy, how they were wrong. The next night, Phelps swam the fastest leg of his silver medalist winning 4×100 freestyle medley, one of two silvers in this Olympics (the other being the 200-meter butterfly), and then the rest of his Olympics were golden. Phelps took top prize in the 100-meter butterfly, and the 200-meter individual medley, while also competing on the 4×200 meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter medley relays. In one word, Phelps 2012 Olympics: Amazing.
Michael Phelps will soon retire from the sport officially as the Olympics most decorated athlete. His 22 medals are the most of anyone, ever, and his 18 gold medals are double that of his nearest competitor. It really isn’t even fair to mention anyone else in the same sentence as Phelps when it comes to Olympic medals. He’s earned more Summer Olympic medals than 160 COUNTRIES. And to put that in perspective, me and you (the reader) have ZERO combined medals.
The 2012 Olympics were the send-off to the great Michael Phelps. He will go down as the best swimmer and the greatest Olympian of all-time, and he is an athlete that we will tell our children and our grand-children about. His masterful work over the past three Olympics is something that will never be equaled and was truly amazing and inspiring to watch. We were all lucky to witness a piece of history.
Thank you, Michael Phelps, for making me proud to be an American. Enjoy your retirement.