Michael Phelps: an 18 carat gold career
Last Saturday saw the end of an era, the end of a glittering career; Michael Phelps’ last ever swim at the Olympics. In typical fashion Phelps won yet another gold medal to bring his total medal count to 18 golds, 2 silvers and 2 bronzes. To put that into perspective, as a friend pointed out to me, Phelps’ total haul of medals is one short of the total number of medals Ireland has won at the Olympics since independence (this does not include our medals won this year). Phelps went to London just two shy of Larisa Latynina’s record 18 Olympic medals and left with 22.
Phelps’ debut at the Sydney Games was a rather muted affair. Despite being the youngest male swimmer to make the U.S. swim team since 1932 his best finish in an event was fifth. However in Athens four years later he was anything but muted. The talk before the Games was could Phelps break Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals at one Olympic meet. The answer was no, but he wasn’t exactly disappointing either; winning six golds and two bronze medals.
If Athens was seen as a slight let down Beijing was anything but. It would be Phelps’ annus mirabilis. There was never more fervent interest in watching events at the pool at an Olympic Games before. Phelps was a man on a mission and he did not fail to deliver, eight gold medals saw him achieve the previously unthinkable. He not only beat Spitz’s record haul he also set a world record in seven of his eight events. The event he didn’t set a world record in was the legendary 100m butterfly final where the Serbian Milorad Cavic was a mere one-hundredth of a second away from denying Phelps the gold. His antics in the pool were one of the biggest talking points of the Games and ensured he was one of, if not the star of the Beijing Games.
Phelps can retire safe in the knowledge that his record number of Olympic medals will more than likely never be bettered in his lifetime. Does his vast collection of medals make him the greatest Olympian of all time? There will always be cynics who will claim that winning multiple medals in the pool is much easier than it is in athletics. Purists would say it’s Carl Lewis whose nine track gold medals include four consecutive victories in the long jump. As with all sports there is always going to be debate but no one would argue against Phelps’ unique position in Olympic history.
By Eoghan Wallace
Posted by Robert McNamara, Sports Editor on at 4:19 pm.
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