It’s been quite the week for Michael Phelps, as the local hero has once again stolen the show in London for the 2012 Olympics and will come home to Baltimore as the most decorated athlete in the history of the planet.
Ten days ago, before the Opening Ceremonies, I tested the waters of local opinions with a simple, open-ended statement on Facebook and Twitter – “Michael Phelps is ________.” I also wrote a blog regarding Phelps for #VisaGoWorld regarding his significance and reputation around Baltimore.
Some took turns praising Phelps for his accomplishments in the pool and for purchasing Meadowbrook Swim Club and giving back to his almost cult-like sport of swimming by inviting local kids into the pool to find fitness and inspiration.
Others mentioned his indiscretions, his reckless behavior of youth and his general boorishness around Baltimore.
Everyone – love him, hate him or envy him – mentioned his mutual love of Baltimore sports teams and the local pride that comes with his roots here in Towson.
But now with 21 medals – and an almost unimaginable 18 gold medals – what will become of Michael Phelps here in Baltimore as the local hero, especially now that his career in the water and on the world stage appears to be over?
This whole swimming thing is quite different from the adulation showered on your “normal” athlete. We’ve all had a chance to watch Ray Lewis play or even have our parents tell us about Johnny Unitas. We’ve all witnessed some of the Cal Ripken magic and know about Brooks Robinson and Jim Palmer and some of us even can collect the bronze statues or bobbleheads.
But for Phelps I find it rather odd that most locals have never seen him swim a race in person. He’s been the best in the world at what he does for 12 years and I’ve never met a person who could tell you anything about his accomplishments in the four years that elapse in the blink of an eye between Sydney and Athens, from Beijing to London.
All of the glory – but all of it truly “made for television.”
Phelps will return to Baltimore sometime later this week and I’m assuming that the Towson government won’t shut down for a day to hold him a parade this time. I’m assuming that Baltimore won’t shut down Fort McHenry and the streets of the city to fete him later in the fall. Believe it or not, the cost of paying police and shutting down streets back in 2008 was quite the ticket for the local taxpayers.
All of the attention, adulation and pomp and circumstance back in 2008 seemed more than enough. The hero worship thing has to have become tiring, even for Phelps, who seemingly couldn’t care less about all of the praise and rock star treatment.
Phelps visited with Bob Costas on the NBC set last night for 30 minutes and much of the conversation was illuminating in regard to how Phelps sees his future.
His ever-present mother Debbie Phelps has clearly been publicly and privately imploring her lad to swim four years from now in Rio in an attempt to add to his collection of rare, precious metals.
Phelps held his final relay gold medal up for Costas and said, “This will be the last Olympic gold medal I’ll ever win. I’m done.”
He almost brightened up on the set when he talked about working with children and traveling the world.
But as I’ve mentioned many times over the past four Olympics that Phelps has attended – it’s swimming. People are only going to get so excited about his sport or him, and by the time football season starts five weeks from now in Baltimore anything regarding the Olympics or gold medals or even Ryan Lochte will be long-forgotten in the mind of most local people and sports fans.
Will Phelps get more involved in local sports issues?
Will he immerse in the community and be more than a face at a local bar and on the sidelines of Baltimore Ravens games?
Will he develop a hobby or interest outside of the pool that doesn’t include pictures of him at a frat party?
What will traveling the world and “seeing things” do for his status as a strangely famous and wealthy 26-year old man with many, many more years left on the planet?
What will the future of Michael Phelps bring for him and for Baltimore?
Only time will tell.
Your feedback or thoughts are welcomed below…
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