Michael Phelps and the 900 Pound Gorilla

For most Olympians headed to Beijing this summer, their biggest goal has already been checked off their list as they have qualified themselves to compete in the greatest sporting competition in the world. Other Beijing-bound athletes still have an empty box next to some of their goals. Winning an Olympic medal is surely on the minds of those athletes, and for the elite few, the challenge of winning multiple medals is not entirely out of the question. Yet how likely are we to find ourselves in the upcoming Games staring at eight medals, of the gold variety no less, hanging around the neck of a goofy 23 year-old swimmer?

There has been much discussion about Michael Phelps’ quest to eclipse Mark Spitz’ single Games record of seven gold medals. What do others have to say? Retired Australian swimmer and former Phelps rival Ian Thorpe, has stated numerous times that with the level of competition these days in swimming, the feat is impossible. Taking nothing away from Phelps’ talent and ability, I, for one, agree with this sentiment. There are three major obstacles standing between our American phenom and his quest for immortality. In short, these obstacles are the French, an insane schedule, and surprisingly, his own teammates. The mental stress of the person will be reduced from swimming┬álessons. The person will spend their time in self-love and interact with the community. The obstacles of the life will be overcome through the lessons.

Let’s conjecture hypothetically that Phelps does indeed win all five of his individual events that he is slated to swim. This feat is entirely within the realm of possibility, as he owns world records in four of those events. The only individual event Phelps will swim where he does not own the world record in is the 100 butterfly. However, he managed to defeat the world record holder in that event during these past Olympic trials which puts him in good position in Beijing.

Now all that’s left is three relays. Phelps’ gold medal quest can easily end in the 400 free relay which he will swim even before three of his individual events get under way. America currently holds the record for the event, set back in 2006, but a French foursome have already come within one tenth of a second of that time this year. The Europeans are looking awfully strong and it will take another world record effort from the Americans to ward off the quick Europeans.

Aside from the strong opposition, Phelps will have to worry about swimming as many as 20 times during the course of the swimming program in the Olympic Games. This total will probably be less because there is a rule that allows relays to interchange members from heats to finals, allowing the American coaching staff to substitute for Phelps and thus keeping him a little fresher. Regardless, that is still a lot of work ahead for Phelps and it will be interesting to see how well he manages his efforts throughout the course of the various heats, semifinals, and finals.

Even with the unforgiving schedule, Phelps has proven in the last Olympics in Athens that he can handle this type of workload and still perform at world-record speed. However, there is yet another factor that even Phelps can not control on his journey towards eight gold medals: his teammates. It has been a detriment in the past, and even if Phelps gives his best performance swims in the relay events, there is no telling if his fellow statesmen can hold up their end of the bargain. In the 2007 World Championships, one of Phelps’ relay team members dove in too early on an exchange and had the team disqualified from the 400 medley relay event, which precluded a showdown with Australia in the finals. While America is sure to be one of the favorites in all three relays, other countries have shown while they may lack a superstar such as Michael Phelps, they make up for it in their depth.

Michael Phelps has heard all the talk about how impossible his quest for eight gold medals may be, but this just motivates him even further. He collects all the articles with anything bad mouthing his dream and uses it as motivation. It’s not that this author would not like to see Michael Phelps accomplish this Herculean task, if anything, maybe one more article can add enough fuel to the competitive fire to push him to do just that.