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Michael Phelps

doc's sports | T.O. Whenham ( Wed 20th, August 2008 )

It's not hard to figure out what the biggest story in sports this past week was. In fact, if anyone argued

that it was anything other than the stunning dominance of Michael Phelps then they have a screw or six loose. Unless you have been living under a rock, and it would have to be a really big one, then you know what Phelps has done - the swimmer won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics to beat Mark Spitz' longstanding and once-thought unbreakable record of seven set in 1972. Along the way, Phelps set world records in seven events, and had to settle for just an Olympic record in the eighth. Needless to say, this guy is pretty good.

Combined with the six gold medals that Phelps won in 2004 in Athens, his total of 14 is five more than any other Olympian has ever had. The scary thing about that isn't just that he's redefining dominance in a sport, but that he's not done yet. Without hesitation, Phelps fully intends to swim at the 2012 games in London. He's only 23 now, and swimming isn't a young man's sport, so there's no reason not to believe that he can't win another stack of exclusive bling then. He has yet another shot at history, too. No male swimmer has ever won gold in the same individual event in three different Olympics. Phelps could have four shots at the three-peat if he continues on with all of his events. There is talk that he will drop the 400m individual medley because of how tough it is, but even if he does that it seems more than reasonable that he could repeat in one of his other three events given how dominant he is in both the medleys and the butterfly. Not that he needs it, but that will be excellent motivation for Phelps going forward.

If Phelps' goal was to create an almost impossible legend then he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. His dominance was unwavering, but his quest was filled with stories that makes it all even richer. Early on in the finals of the 200m butterfly his goggles began to leak. They filled with water, and that made it difficult for him to see, and especially to judge the wall and time his turns. Most guys would quit and use that as a fully legitimate excuse. Phelps just went out and crushed the field in world record time. Even blindfolding this guy probably wouldn't be enough to give the rest of the guys a chance. That was impressive, but not as impressive as the 100m butterfly. He was destined to lose that race in the final meters, yet somehow he touched the wall first by 1/100th of a second despite the fact that just milliseconds earlier his hands were behind his head while the silver medallist's were inches from the wall. He also got an impossible finish in the 4x100m relay when his teammate closed from way back in the final meters to seal the win over the French. If you believe in destiny, then this was a clear example of it in action.

You don't have to dig too deep to uncover the reason for Phelps' superhuman success. He spent the last four years training at the University of Michigan. That is, of course, the greatest school with the greatest athletic program in the country, and all who touch their hallowed halls are guaranteed success in whatever venture they choose to undertake. That's not bias, it's a fact. Just don't remind me of what I said when the football team is 6-6 this year.

There is one absolute fact - Phelps is going to be very, very rich. His medals are worth about $10,000, but I doubt he'll have to pawn them. He made $25,000 per medal from the US Olympic Committee, but that will be just chump change compared to the endorsements he'll rake in. He already was doing pretty well, but now no one outside of perhaps Usain Bolt will be able to cash in more in the coming months and years after his Olympic success. It seems likely that he will buy his hometown pool in Baltimore, and turn it into a training academy - another way to cash in on his name.

Runner-ups for biggest story

1. Usain Bolt - There is nothing more breathtaking than seeing someone who is just so much better than everyone else that it isn't even close. That's why Michael Johnson was such a star on the track, and why Tiger Woods and Michael Schumacher both have more money than many countries. Bolt is young, but he is quickly taking his place among that group. His win in the 100m dash was one of the most breathtakingly ridiculous displays of athleticism I have ever witnessed. He was at full effort for 20 meters less than any of his opponents, yet he loped to a world record and the easiest possible win.

2. Jamaican women - The women's sprint was supposed to be a showdown between the Jamaicans and the Americans. Not so much. The Americans are blaming a questionable start, but I'm not sure that it would have mattered. The three Jamaicans finished one-two-three. Or, more correctly, one-two-two - there was a dead heat for second. Jamaica has always had sprinting depth, but this is a new level of dominance.

3. Elena Isinbaeva - This Russian pole vaulter is another athlete who is so much better than everyone else that it's almost funny. She set her 14th world record in winning gold, and no other competitor was even in the same area code. To make her even more interesting, she's also a total nutcase. She has long talks with her pole between jumps, and she hides under a blanket before she competes.

doc's sports

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