USA Swimming: Phelps is Phive for Phive

August 13, 2008 |

Baltimore’s own swimming sensation Michael Phelps is five for five in his quest to surpass Mark Spitz and win eight gold medals. After winning two races last night, he now has eleven career gold medals—the most out of any Olympian…ever.
As if winning the 200 butterfly in world record time isn’t hard enough, Phelps did it for a seventh time last night…and he did it blind.

During the 2-fly, Phelps’ goggles began to leak. From personal experience, this is the most anxiety-inducing experience that can happen to a swimmer during a race save losing your suit. It’s like trying to run with beer goggles on. And sight is everything in swimming. Swimmers, especially butterfliers and breaststrokers, need to use their depth perception to time their strokes for a proper turn so they don’t glide into the wall or get jammed on the wall. In other words, it’s nearly impossible to do an Olympic-quality turn with water in your goggles.

Phelps usually explodes out of his last wall in the 200 fly, and that didn’t happen yesterday. He began his turn a little early, resulting in a much less powerful final turn than normal. I thought it was kinda funny when he finished the race. He looked up at the scoreboard, saw that he had another gold medal and another world record, and he was unhappy. Only in Phelps’ world is that result a failure…

In the 4×200 freestyle relay, Phelps led the team off with a split that was almost three seconds ahead of world record pace. The team of Phelps, Lochte, Berens, and Vanderkaay shattered the world record by about five seconds and became the first team to break the 7:00 mark in the race.
When these Olympics are over, the questions and comparisons will begin. Phelps is inarguably the greatest Olympian of all-time, but is he the best athlete of all time?
I’m not sure I’m ready to address that question, but he certainly belongs in the discussion. I’m just not ready to compare him to Tiger, Mays, Babe, Brown, or Federer…not until his career is over. But looking ahead, he has at least one more great Olympic performance left in 2012, possibly another in 2016 (he’s only 23 years old).
Think about this: when it’s all said and done, Michael Phelps could have more than 20 gold medals. If that’s the case, I think he would become the best athlete we’ve ever seen. Maybe I’m biased because he’s from Baltimore…or he’s a swimmer…but people don’t get 20 gold medals. That just doesn’t happen. But, as we’ve seen so far during these Olympics, Phelps has a way of making the impossible become just the opposite.

Another point to think about: the program Phelps is swimming. He has to swim 17 races against world-class athletes in nine days.

That’s SO much to ask from your body. Mind you that during every one of their swims, swimmers push their bodies to the point of almost passing out. Swimming is the only sport where you have to hold your breath when your body needs more oxygen; and when you’re desperate for air coming into the last wall of a 200 breaststroke, holding your breath for 15 more yards is some of the worst pain in the world. It’s like sprinting all the way around a baseball diamond without breathing. Especially when you take the anaerobic nature of swimming into account, it will take incredible stamina and athleticism for Phelps continue to swim at this clip.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, Phelps’ biggest hurdle will be the 100m butterfly, where he has to take on teammate and world record holder Ian Crocker. Crocker claimed the silver medal at the 2004 Athens games in the same event. The final this year takes place this coming Saturday. It’s the only event Phelps has that day, so he should be focused.

The only question will be his stamina level, as he must swim the 200 IM final and the 100 fly semifinal on Friday. Phelps will have to expend all of his energy in both races and may be more fatigued than Crocker on Saturday.

But I think Phelps will win the 100m fly because Phelps has had Crocker’s number lately. He has posted three swims in that event that are faster than anything Crocker has done over the past year.

One of the Russian swimmers said that Phelps was “from another planet.” I think we can all agree on that…it just so happens that his spaceship landed in Rogers Forge.