Friday, August 15, 2008

My New Hero

I have thought about two things recently. Heroes and the greatest athletes of all time. I have never been one to have heroes. I often have wondered if anyone, including my own family, will ever become a hero to me (although truthfully I have added my parents to the list so I have at least 2 heroes). But I can finally say there is now someone else I can call a hero. I have also wondered if during my lifetime I would see the greatest athletes ever in their respective sports. We live in the golden age of sports, able to experience so many amazing feats in so many different arenas, courts, tracks, fields, and pools. I was not alive to watch Ali or Pele and there are too many great baseball and football players to even attempt to name the greatest ever. We are currently in the midst of figuring out if Tiger Woods is or will become the greatest golfer of all time and nobody can dispute that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. Luckily I was born at a time to be old enough to watch Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan compete at their highest levels, and old enough to appreciate the significance of the USA Dream Team in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the greatest collection of basketball players ever on one team. In an era where we have to differentiate between eras (Modern Era, Steroid Era, etc) I wonder if we're witnessing history in any era. With these 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing I have to wonder if we're witnessing the greatest swimmer of all time take aim at the world one race at a time and blow them out of the water (no pun intended).

He's not Superman, he doesn't go and save the world, he's simply a swimmer. Although to call Michael Phelps just a swimmer would be an injustice of epic proportions. The Olympics are fun and exciting and there is no other sporting event in the world where everyone is invited and everyone can compete and have a chance at storied glory and delirious defeat. Michael Phelps came into these Olympic Games hoping to match and maybe surpass fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz and win 7 (or even 8) gold medals in single Olympic Games. A few days ago Phelps surpassed the most successful Olympians of all time and earned his 10th gold medal. And tonight, after winning his 13th gold medal overall and 7th of these Games, he became my hero. I've never really been a Michael Phelps fan but I was never NOT one one either. I just said "eh, good for him" and moved on with my life. But I will admit after watching him tonight I've become a Phelps Phan for life. No worries, as a "Phelps Phan" I have no interest in finding out who he's dating or imitating his eating habits, but I will forever root for him from now on. I am no longer a sideline spectator when he swims. What he did tonight was just amazing. It was hard to get excited before tonight because if you remember Phelps has already won 6 gold medals before (along with 2 bronze). He did it 4 years ago in Athens. Until tonight all he'd done was repeat what he'd done 4 years ago. Until tonight he was merely mortal. But tonight he made history and won his 7th gold medal in the most exciting fashion possible, beating Milorad Cavic by a mere 0.01 seconds, the closest a race can possibly be! True, Mark Spitz still trumps Phelps because Spitz had 7 world records to go with his 7 gold medals and Phelps only managed an Olympic record tonight. But still, with one more win tomorrow in the 4 x 100 medley relay, Phelps can become the most successful Olympian in a single Olympic Games with 8 gold medals. He's already become the most successful Olympian of all time, now standing 4 gold medals above the previous group of most successful. Tomorrow he has a chance to earn his 14th gold and his 16th medal overall. The most amazing thing in all of this? It's not the totally unfathomable come from behind win in the 4 x 100 freestyle relay (thanks Jason Lezak), or the 0.01 second difference in the 100m butterfly tonight. No, the most amazing thing is the fact that tomorrow he can 1 up himself (as if that's possible). And four years from now in London at the 2012 Olympic Games he can add to his medal haul and make even more history.

UPDATE: The USA Men's 4 x 100m medley relay team won the gold medal in world record time on Sunday in Beijing, meaning Michael Phelps won his 8th gold medal of these Olympic Games. He surpassed Mark Spitz in total number of gold medals in a single Olympic Games and tied Spitz with 7 world records (and 1 Olympic record) in a single Games. With his 14th gold medal he is the most successful Olympian of all time by an astonishing 5 gold medals. Phelps now has a total of 16 Olympic medals, breaking the previous male record for total Olympic medals (15) held by Russian gymnast Nikolai Andrianov. The all-time record for total Olympic medals (18) is held by female gymnast Larysa Latynina. Who's rooting for Phelps in London in 2012?! I am! ;)


Eunice said...

Wow, Shannon! What a great first blog! Really, it is. I was rooting for Phelps too so I guess you could call me a “Phelps’ Phan” (love that!). You should have seen my MIL this weekend. She was screaming/cheering whenever he would race. Even that race where he won by only 0.01 seconds, I knew he had done it. Matt’s brother was yelling, “He didn’t win! He didn’t win! Challenge the call” and all I kept saying was “The sensors don’t lie!”. Of course, our boy won.

Now, many people have been saying that he’s the “greatest athlete ever”. I don’t know if I agree with that especially growing up in Michael Jordan era basketball. It’s tough to make that call. Yes, Phelps did win more gold medals than anyone at the Olympics, but he’s in a sport that gives him the chance to go after more than one medal. I mean in basketball, you just get one medal. You don’t get a medal for freethrows, one for layups, one for threepointers…etc. I don’t know. I think it’s hard to compare the two. There is no doubt in my mind that both are extraordinary athletes, I just don’t know if we can call Phelps, the best athlete ever.


(Also, I so want to go to London for the 2012 Olympics)

Shannon said...

Thanks! I was hoping it wasn't too dramatic or sappy. Did you see his mom during that race he only won by 0.01 seconds? Even she thought he had come in 2nd. The look on her face when she realized he had won was just ridiculous.

I think he's proven himself to be the greatest Olympian of a single Games. Only 1 other athlete has ever won 8 medals in a single Games. Phelps is the 2nd athlete, but don't forget he has done it twice already - 8 in Beijing, 8 in Athens. He's won something in every single Olympic event he's entered (I think) in the last 2 Olympics. He's easily the greatest male Olympian of all time in terms of pure numbers and also "most successful" but he's still 2 medals behind a female for greatest Olympian ever. And you can't ignore he's medaled at 3 different distances and also with 3 different strokes. Of his 16 medals only 6 are from team relays, 10 medals are entirely his alone. In Beijing he swam 17 total races including prelims and semis and ended with 8 gold medal finals. Plus, he did it on consecutive days over a 9 day period. Plus, they switched the always-in-the-evening finals for all morning finals at these Games to accomodate NBC. He definitely had a lot to deal with. He may have more chances to win medals unlike some others but he also has to prove it more times too. I think it's a trade off.

Now, there's also the separate debate of him being the greatest athlete ever. I think this is the only time he and MJ and Tiger and all them can be talked about equally. Here is where you can talk about the whole picture. Look up everyone on Wikipedia. It's staggering what Phelps has accomplished in his lifetime. You may never hear about what Phelps does in between Olympics but that's nto his fault. MJ had 82 games plus playoffs every single season, and it was all televised. Everyone knows what MJ has accomplished. Phelps doesn't get a chance to win scoring or rebounding titles or be an MVP, ROY, All-Star, Defensive POY, 6th Man, or All-NBA, etc. Swimming has different awards. And don't forget MJ sucked at baseball. It's like comparing apples to oranges. I could go on and on about the differences. BTW, since we're on that subject, who do you think wins, the '92 Dream Team or the '08 Redeem Team? Isn't it great to be alive to witness such greatness in sports history in SO MANY different sports - swimming (Phelps), tennis (Federer, Sampras), golf (Tiger), basketball (MJ), etc?? I'd say baseball but too much is clouded by steroid suspicions.

If Phelps goes and blows people out of the water in London in '12 then we might definitely have to consider it. And, yes, I would LOVE to be in London in '12!