SLAM!Sports
 


 SPORT INDEX
 

 Previous Olympics
 









COLUMNISTS

Tue, August 17, 2004

Thorpedoed!


ATHENS -- As one might expect from a "Race of the Millennium," it went swimmingly well. Unless you were hooked to the storyline.

Michael Phelps's shot at seven gold medals, the record set by Mark Spitz, is gone, as is a potential $1-million US bonus from Speedo.

The storyline is that Michael Phelps failed.

The U.S. media built Phelps up, now watch them tear him down.

So far, Phelps has one gold and two bronze here in the pool. He still may win eight medals and tie the record for most medals in a single Olympics, set by Russian gymnast Alexander Dityatin, which would be an amazing accomplishment.

But for the most part, the Michael Phelps watch is over.

To the other two swimmers involved in the Race of the Millennium, it's the end of the second period.

A WITNESS

Four years ago in Sydney, Pieter van den Hoogenband of the Netherlands beat Ian Thorpe in Thorpe's best event, the 200-metre freestyle. Last night Thorpe beat the Dutchman. Phelps was mostly a witness in winning the bronze.

"I told him after the race, 'I guess this makes it 1-1,' " Thorpe said of van den Hoogenband. "I told him we'll have to settle it in Beijing (at the 2008 Games)."

Thorpe said he expected Phelps to be there and probably somebody new, too.

Van den Hoogenband didn't get much notice in the pre-race hype. But he became the biggest medal winner in the history of the Netherlands, with two gold, two silver and two bronze.

If the race didn't live up to the hype, it was because the swimmer at the centre of the hype wasn't good enough, despite a personal best, an American record, to make it a race.

It was a whale of a race if you could take the focus off Phelps.

Van den Hoogenband made Thorpe, a.k.a. The Thorpedo, work for it.

"The only thing I liked about my race is that I made them suffer," van den Hoogenband said.

Thorpe, who was slow out of the blocks, won the race on the turn, coming home in one minute 44.71 seconds.

Thorpe said he had no problem with the race being the focus of these Olympics, instead of the traditional focus on the 100 metres in track.

"It has been a big deal on three continents," Thorpe said.

"It was the biggest buildup of the Olympic Games.

"I don't see it as much marking our territory. But, yet ... "

Freestyle is his territory. Of the 10 fastest 200-metre freestyle times raced, Thorpe has nine. Van den Hoogenband has the other.

In the end, Phelps and coach Bob Bowman were mostly left to validate Thorpe's greatness.

"I think he cemented it in my mind," Bowman said. "That makes him the best middle-distance swimmer in history."

Bowman wasn't knocking his swimmer.

"Right now, at this stage of his career, (Phelps) couldn't have been any better. (Phelps's time of 1:45.23) was the gold-medal time from Sydney."

Phelps said he wasn't crushed by getting a bronze.

"How can I be disappointed?" the 19-year-old from Baltimore said.

"I was in a field with the two fastest freestylers in history and swam my best time ever, an American record.

"Against those two I was the third-fastest. Wow."

So, equalling Spitz's record of seven gold from Munich 1972 is gone and so is the bonus that Speedo would've paid had Phelps won seven races.

A FIRST

"I did something nobody has ever done before and that's qualify for six individual events for the Olympics," Phelps said.

"I had an opportunity. I tried to do something Spitz did.

"But I came here saying I wanted to win one gold medal and I did that.

"I guess you could say the pressure is off for the rest of the Games."


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

Results



CANOE home | We welcome your feedback.
Copyright © 2004, CANOE, a division of Canoe Inc. All rights reserved.