Fri, September 20, 2013

Phelps is truly lord of the rings

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Michael Phelps finished the Olympics with four gold medals and two silvers and solidified his place as the greatest athletes in Olympic history.

LONDON - Four years ago, he was the king of Beijing and now the Lord of London.

And every minute you had a chance to see Michael Phelps live and in Olympic action it was worth all that weight in gold.

There was a tendency to treat the American superstar and most accomplished Olympian of all time with a tinge of indifference this time around, because he had the audacity to finish off the podium once for the first time in 12 years in his first race of these Olympic.

And as ignorant as it was, those who fell into the trap missed the chance to properly enjoy his final surge to greatness before retirement.

With his part in the American’s victory in the 4x100 medley relay on Saturday night, Phelps will end his competitive career with 18 gold medals and a whopping 22 overall, easily storming past the previous Olympic record 18 toal medals won by Russian gymnast, Larissa Latynina.

While he spent the first few days of the meet getting overshadowed by Chinese sensation Ye Shiwen and her controversial records, by teammate Ryan Lochte and byAmerican teen sensation Missy Franklin, Phelps left the pool the clear star of the meet.

Fortunate enough to see six of his seven medals in Beijing and three more here, I haven’t even seen half of the 22, a record that surely will never be touched.

But I’ve seen a helluva lot.

We’ll let you in on a little secret: Covering the Olympics doesn’t always allow for one to digest the magic moment. The press tribunes, as the seating area for the press is known, were great venues to watch both here at the Aquatic Centre and in Beijing’s Water Cube.

Often though, large groups of reporters don’t use them, instead watching the races on televisions in the interview area swimmers walk through following their race. Depending on deadlines, it could be a logistical nightmare to venture to the tribunes.

But I didn’t travel all this way to watch brilliance unfold in high definition, so whenever I was at the pool for a Phelps final, I gladly took the gamble of missing out on a quote. I wanted to be by the pool where you could feel the humidity and hear the splashes and invariably the huge roars from the huge crowds.

And most of all, I wanted to see history.

Turns out I saw a nice chunk of it. In Beijing, it started with measured pursuit of Mark Spitz’s single Olympics record and steadily continued until he collected his record eighth on Aug. 17. The atmosphere in the Water Cube may have been more electric than here, if only because Phelps was more dominant.

While it’s true that these Games didn’t start off in fine form for Phelps - finishing fourth in the 400-metre individual medley in his first event while American rival Lochte crushed him - it turns out it was far too early to judge him and declare him washed up.

Shame on those who did.

Of the London medals, most impressive might have been in the 200 metre IM on Thursday night when he showed Lochte he was still the man. Not only was it redemption for the 400, but Phelps made sure he wasn’t going to leave town without an individual gold.

The most impressive to these eyes, though, was his seventh in Beijing, the medal that matched a record many felt would never be touched - the seven Spitz golds from the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In a desperate closing surge to the wall, Phelps extended his extra long arms and touched a hair in front of Serbian Milorad Cavic. The emotion that Phelps didn’t always show in London - and was oddly criticized for it - came spilling out that day, with animated splashing and a piston-pumping fist.

And it was an image for the ages, a memory even more valuable given what he accomplished in this his fourth and final Olympics.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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