I was sitting in a Hunt Valley eatery at lunchtime Sunday when a friend asked if I had noticed the picture she had posted on Facebook last week. I had to admit I had not, prompting her to scramble for her phone.
“Do you recognize anyone in this picture?” she asked.
You the reader of course have the benefit of already knowing this column is about Michael Phelps, so you’re probably thinking I’m a bit of a goof for not realizing the most decorated Olympic champion of all time was the 15 year old in the blue shirt at a high school dance. I didn’t have the same benefit, so I will admit it took me a second.
All throughout the week I’ve noticed Baltimoreans’ Facebook pictures and status updates related to Phelps. A handful of them have been updates about his most recent performance in London, but significantly more of them were of a more personal nature. You probably read a status update along the lines of “I remember meeting Michael Phelps at Towson Town Center before his first Olympics” or “I knew a girl who got hit on by Michael Phelps one night at a bar in Towson” or “I once watched a Ravens preseason with Michael Phelps at a bar in Ocean City” or something along those lines.
As Nestor Aparicio pointed out last week at WNST.net, not every personal “Phelps-perience” shared by a Charm City resident has been overwhelmingly glowing. It still seems like somehow everyone has still had at least one or has at least known someone who has had one. The “six degrees of separation” game played with Kevin Bacon (do people still play that game?) seems like it would be won by EVERYONE in the state of Maryland if Phelps were the subject.
We’ve counted his medals (staggering records of 18 gold and 22 overall). We’ve laughed at pictures posted on TMZ. We’ve debated his merits as a role model after a DUI arrest. We’ve attended parades and parties at Fort McHenry to celebrate him (and I can only assume there will be a “Phelpstival Part 3” in coming weeks). We’ve wondered if he’s had a girlfriend. Our girlfriends have wondered if he’d be interested in a new one. We’ve turned to our friends at Baltimore Ravens games and said “hey, Michael Phelps is here.” We’ve gotten to know his mother and sisters by name and have even followed some of their accomplishments. We’ve compared him to not only the greatest swimmers or Olympic athletes of all time, but to the greatest individual sport athletes or just athletes in general of all time. We’ve asked questions like “is Michael Phelps the Tiger Woods of swimming or is Tiger Woods the Michael Phelps of golf?”
We even kept M&T Bank Stadium packed one August Saturday night to watch him become the only man to win 8 gold medals at a single Olympiad. It was a pretty special night…