Monday, July 30, 2012

Will Michael Phelps Make Olympic History?

The short answer is, yes.

The long answer is, yes, he will surpass the 18-medal haul of Soviet gymnast Larisa Semyonovna Latynina (1956 Melbourne, 1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo Olympics).

Phelps currently has 17 medals, including the silver he just won in the 400-m relay at the London Olympics. He still has 5 more races to swim. There is no question to that he will win at least 2 more medals to surpass Latynina’s medal count. Even if he cannot add to his 14 gold medals (8 of them at Beijing), it is unlikely that anyone will surpass his 14 golds in the near future.

But then, a prodigy or a phenom will undoubtedly arise somewhere, and what was once deemed insurmountable will fall by the wayside. Remember Bob Beamon's leap of 29 ft. 2.5 in. in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in 1968? The record stood for 23 years, until 1991, when Mike Powell jumped 29 ft. 4-3/8 in. at the world championship in Tokyo. (But Beamon's jump is still the Olympic record).
After Phelps came in 4th at the 400 individual medley in London, major newspapers in America and elsewhere printed hysterical headlines of disappointment and dethronement . But inevitably, skills fade, competition gets tougher, time takes its toll. That Phelps has been able to maintain his excellence spanning 3 Olympics - Athens (2004) to Beijing (2008) to London (2012) - is a testimony to his peerless gift. Longevity is a sure sign of greatness. Think Pele, Ali, Michael Jordan.

I just hope that Phelps will keep his word and retire after London. Most celebrities do not do well when the spotlight is no longer on them. The mind whispers: “Take just one more shot at glory. You can do it!” When athletes, whose best days are behind them, continue to act as if time stands still for them and they can bend their bodies to the dictates of their minds, the result is a sad spectacle, tragic even.
Phelps can nurture promising youngsters and prepare them for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. That will cement his legacy as perhaps the greatest swimmer in history.

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