Michael Phelps makes Olympic history
The news that U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps had captured his eighth gold medal and turned in his seventh record-breaking performance in the 2008 Olympiad was not unexpected when it flashed across my BlackBerry's screen earlier this evening... but it was delightfully thrilling all the same.
Phelps' accomplishments at these Games will surely rank as one of the finest achievements in Olympics history for decades, possibly even centuries, to come.
While "greatest Olympian ever" may not necessarily be an appropriate honor for Phelps (we have to pay our respects to the many other outstanding competitors in years past who set many world records at consecutive Games, after all) Phelps is undoubtedly one of the world's greatest athletes.
And not just because he's a fast swimmer, either. As Seattle P-I columnist Art Thiel writes, Phelps is a man of integrity:
The cynics are certain that Phelps had to be crooked to so dominate an increasingly competitive swim world.As Phelps drew closer in his pursuit of the gold medal record, he captivated the United States. Millions of Americans not familiar with his hopes and dreams tuned in and became excited:
Of course, I don't have proof that he hasn't used performance-enhancing drugs. But many know, yet don't often explain, that he volunteered to be part of Project Believe, an initiative this year from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that recruited Phelps and 11 other elite athletes for intensive blood and urine testing leading up to the Olympics.
The idea was to help regain public confidence in Olympics sports by having premier athletes go through far more rigorous testing than the industry standard.
Only once in Phelps' many press conferences this week did the subject come up, and it was the only time Phelps expressed a little defiance.
"They can say what they want -- I am clean," he said. "I did Project Believe with USADA, where I purposely wanted to do more tests to prove that. People can question all they want, but the facts are facts and I have the results to prove it."
Thousands of miles and oceans away, his country was watching. Word trickled back to him that his races were leading the news, that 70,000 people had watched his race inside M&T Bank Stadium after the Ravens' exhibition loss to the Minnesota Vikings. That may have been the greatest reward of all.And fellow athletes are deeply impressed:
"My big goal is to change the sport of swimming," Phelps said. "For the kids coming up in the sport and also for of the sport in America. So my goal is starting to happen, but there is still a long way to go with that. I'm sure Bob and I can think of something in the next four years."
Leisel Jones, a gold medalist from Australia, said her biggest thrill here was not her own victories, but watching Phelps.The pride of an entire nation is perhaps best summarized by U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth, who declared in a statement:
"What do you really say to that other than shake their hand and shake your head, and wonder will anybody come close to that again?" said Ian Crocker, one of so many swimmers Phelps beat here. "Probably not. Not in my lifetime."
An extraordinary chapter in Olympic history has been written here in Beijing by one of the greatest athletes of all time.Extraordinary is a fine adjective, but Michael Phelps makes that word sound like an understatement. Even magnificent doesn't seem to quite accurately describe the breadth of his accomplishment. It's simply unprecedented. Skeptics thought Phelps' goals were lofty and unreachable.
We could not be more proud of Michael, in the manner by which he competed, represented our country, and represented the Olympic Movement. The fact that his eighth medal was won in a team relay signifies Michael's commitment not only to his own quest, but to the importance of teamwork and representing his country.
He proved them wrong.
And along the way, he took the United States of America (and the world) on a thrilling ride that will not be forgotten. We have just witnessed one of the most spectacular moments in the history of sports. We ought to savor it - who knows when, or even if, a feat like this will ever be repeated?
Michael Phelps is a champion who is truly in his own league.