Now that it's over, we can reflect.
From Sydney, Australia at age 15 to London, England at age 27. From becoming the youngest American to make the Olympic swimming contingent in nearly seventy years back in 2000 to becoming the most decorated Olympian in the history of the Olympics by 2012, Michael Phelps has become both legendary and iconic. Now he hangs it up.
With another fantastic two week Olympic effort, Michael Phelps came to London and accomplished everything he possibly could ever dream of. With his performances in 4x100 meter medley relay, the 4x200 meter freestyle relay, the 200 meter individual medley, and the 100 meter butterfly, Michael Phelps added to his record smashing gold medal total, 18 in all. Leaving no doubt, Phelps wrapped up his final individual and relay golds by turning in remarkable performances, performances saved for athletes of a different kind, athletes just like Phelps. However, it was his humility which we appreciated even more so. There wasn't the exuberance he showed in Beijing when he was not only shocking the world one night after another, but also himself, rather the picture of someone 'getting it,' getting the moment. Someone understanding that everything he was accomplishing, piling medal on top of medal, piling performance on top of performance, Michael Phelps was in the moment of rewriting record books and in itself, history.
For the next fifty-plus years, Michael Phelps will be the answer to each of the following questions:
Who owns the record for most Olympic medals won?
Who owns the record for most Olympic gold medals won?
Who won (3) consecutive gold medals in the 100 meter butterfly?
Who won (3) consecutive gold medals in the 200 meter individual medley?
Answer: Phelps, Michael.
Time for a rhetorical question. Who is the greatest Olympian of all time? It's not the conversation we have in other sports such as basketball with Michael Jordan vs. Magic Johnson or in baseball with Babe Ruth vs. Hank Aaron, the best Olympian of all time is now a no doubter, it's Michael Phelps and spending time defending him over any other would be a disservice to the remarkable efforts Phelps put forth to win 22 Olympic medals between 2004 and 2012.
Ther was a split-second after Phelps failed to medal in his first Olympic event in London, the 400 meter individual medley, but just a split second when we worried that he looked too human, and saw the reality of the goal he was chasing. Then it was over. Phelps turned in a masterful leg of the 4x100 meter freestyle relay and helped the United States win a silver medal, his first of the games, and the medal which got him off and running. Over the next and final five events of Michael's seven-event program, he'd pick up four gold medals and a silver, a mind-blowing haul for most Olympians, but for a guy who picked up eight in Beijing, his London performance seemed pedestrian.
London made him real to you and I. His inability to pound the water in exuberance after winning during these Olympic Games was a sign, a sign that he not only knew it was coming to an end, but he physically couldn't enjoy the sport any longer. His actions spoke volumes in London, they echoed everything Phelps had said pre-Olympics. His talk about how he had lost interest after Beijing. The acknowledged stories that he was skipping training sessions on a consistent basis over the past four years. His open declaration that these would be his last Olympic Games, no matter the outcome. Despite his PhelpsPhans pleas to hit Rio in 2016, and the pleas of his own mother, Michael Phelps is d-o-n-e.
For all of us who have had the pleasure to watch Michael Phelps in the pool, it's been a treat. We've enjoyed seeing one man dominate more than any other, we've seen his abilities tested, we've seen him doubted, but most of all, we've seen him win. With his twenty-two medals over a period of twelve-years, it might just be over, passing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina in these Olympics to become the greatest medal winner of all time was clearly his mission, mission accomplished.
He's pretty remarkable.