The National, Monday 06th August, 2012
Just as Le Clos patterned himself after Phelps, there was someone whose career Phelps, or at least Bowman, studied carefully.
Ian Thorpe of Australia won nine Olympic medals and became, in 2004, the first man to win medals in the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle in a single Games.
Thorpe’s range extended to the 800m freestyle, an event in which he held the world record for more than four years.
Thorpe’s versatility got the gears grinding in Bowman’s mind. He sought out Thorpe’s coach and spoke to him at length about what it took for Thorpe to consistently swim so many events so well. They talked about warm-ups and recovery and massage, elements that became part of Phelps’ racing routine.
Bowman has since shared tips with Franklin’s coach, Todd Schmitz, on maximising performance in multiple events.
It is because of Phelps that swimmers like Franklin think nothing of taking an ice bath to expedite their recovery.
Phelps has no peers in the annals of swimming, but is he the greatest Olympian ever?
Sebastian Coe, a two-time Olympic champion in track and the chairman of the London Organising Committee, said no. His argument was that swimming, unlike other sports, offers a smorgasbord of individual events and allows its athletes the opportunity to team up on relays, too.
That is true, but here is something to consider: to earn his 22 medals, Phelps had to race 46 times, counting preliminaries and semi-finals, over three Olympics.
That is a lot of stress and strain. Ask James Magnussen, an Australian freestyle sprinter, who came into these Games as a gold medal favourite in the 50m and 100m freestyle. He failed to reach the final in the 50m, missed the gold medal in the 100m by one-hundredth of a second, and led off the Australian 4x100m freestyle relay team that finished without a medal, in fourth.
“I have a lot more respect for guys like Michael Phelps who can come to the Olympics and back it up under that pressure,” Magnussen said.
In the debate over history’s greatest Olympian, Coe and other British sports enthusiasts
may cast their votes for the rower Steve Redgrave, who won gold medals in five consecutive Olympics. But others, such as former Australian Olympian Susie O’Neill, will stump for Phelps.
“The Michael Phelps story is unbelievable,” O’Neill, who won an Olympic medal of each hue in the 200m butterfly from 1992 to 2000, said in an interview with The Sunday Mail of Australia before the Games.
“It’s crazy he’s going for three consecutive Olympic golds in four events.”
No man had ever won the same individual swimming event in three consecutive Olympics.
Phelps did it twice here in the span of 24 hours, with victories in the 200m individual medley and the 100m butterfly.
Among those he turned back in the butterfly final was Milorad Cavic of Serbia, who nearly outtouched him in 2008.
“I cannot be compared to Michael Phelps,” Cavic said. “I’m a one-trick pony. He does it all.”
After the 100m butterfly on Friday night, Phelps wrapped his arm around Le Clos, who tied for second. In that moment, a mantle was passed.
“It’s crazy to think he’s retiring,” Le Clos said, “because I’ve always looked up to him. It’s going to be hard to go to a meet and he’s not there.”
Phelps will be gone but not forgotten. He inspired a generation, and more than all his medals, that is his greatest legacy. – The New York Times