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Archive for Monday, August 18, 2008

Commentary: Phelps’ Olympic feat incomparable

August 18, 2008

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— Now what? I mean it isn't like Michael Phelps is all of a sudden going to challenge Usain Bolt in the 200. He hasn't been invited onto U.S. track's sprint relay team, although it could use something, some healthy body in its futile attempt to beat Jamaica.

The man who won an unprecedented eight gold medals, who set world records for setting world records, who owned the Water Cube like many of us own our condos, has conquered his impossible dream.

He isn't suddenly going to develop a crossover dribble that will knock Kobe Bryant off the U.S. basketball team. He won't walk next door and compete in gymnastics.

He has already swum the equivalent of a marathon. He won't try running one now.

He is done. He has squeezed every last second, every final stroke out of his talented and willing body. He has won races in a rout and he has won them by .01 of a second.

And now he looks spent. And relieved. And satisfied that he has done everything he could have done here.

He looks as if he made a pact with his body. Told it he would swim this many races and then he promised he would shut it down. Surely the toll exacted from all of this racing is one of the reasons he almost lost gold medal No. 7 Saturday to Milorad Cavic in the 100 butterfly.

Phelps has won his eight gold medals. He has breezed past Mark Spitz. He has done everything he said he would do and did it with more flair than we thought he had.

Eight gold medals. Count them - 400 individual medley, 400 freestyle relay, 200 freestyle, 200 butterfly, 800 freestyle relay, 200 individual medley, 100 butterfly and 400 medley relay.

A swimmer's heptathlon plus one.

He has been transcendent. He said after his race Sunday that he has gotten text messages from friends saying his wins were announced at Yankee Stadium.

He said friends have been out to dinner and the restaurants have had his races on television.

Australian medalist Leisel Jones said the highlight of the Olympics, for her, has been watching Phelps.

Said Grant Hackett, the Australian silver medalist in the 1500 freestyle: "The level of achievement that he has done here is just phenomenal. In my opinion, I think it is something that we'll never ever see again. In this day and age when the sport is so competitive, so close.

Phelps is done, but the Olympics have another week to go. Who fills the void? How does anyone fill the void? Nobody in the history of the Olympics has even been able to do what he did, and it sounds preposterous to ask someone else to try.

At 11:12 Sunday morning, his 400 medley relay teammate Jason Lezak touched the wall first, giving Phelps his eighth and final gold medal of the Games.

Teammate Aaron Peirsol had taken a slight lead in the backstroke, but Brendan Hansen gave it up in the breaststroke.

It took another powerful push in the butterfly from Phelps and the usual race-winning freestyle anchor from relay specialist Lezak to win gold.

No matter what happens this week, Beijing always will belong to Phelps.

"It's been one fun week, that's for sure," Phelps said.

Ditto for us, Michael.

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