Michael Phelps finally has his 19th Olympic medal, more than what any athlete has ever won in the history of the Games. It was at about 1.37 a.m. (IST) on Wednesday, as India slept, that Phelps, the ‘Baltimore Bullet’ as he is fondly called, made his tryst with destiny as the greatest ever Olympian.
Or perhaps, scripted the most defining moment of the extravaganza held once in four years since 1896, barring those times when the two World Wars had forced its cancellation.
For someone, who took a break from the sport questioning his own firepower to compete after the sensational eight-gold haul in Beijing in 2008, it is this one record which had forced the 27-year-old to ultimately decide on taking a shot at the London Games.
The record of being the most decorated Olympian had rested on the legendary Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina since the 1964 Games. She won a total of 18 medals, including the three-in-a-row gold in floor exercises at 1956 (Melbourne), 1960 (Rome) and in Tokyo.
Many have tried in vain to overcome this high-water mark since then and it was his Beijing performance that prompted Phelps to think about having a go at the record.
Yet, it was a tough decision to make as it meant that Phelps had to get back to his legendary long and strenuous training sessions beginning early morning, the equally famous diet of something like 10,000 to 12,000 calories and the high altitude simulation chamber that he reportedly sleeps in.
Further, there was his huge reputation of being the greatest swimmer of all-time to defend. And when he failed to reproduce his Midas touch at the world championships in Shanghai last year, suffering a rare defeat or two, it prompted critics to seek their pound of flesh.
The US trials last month, however, saw a different Phelps, slowly regaining his form, but he restricted himself to seven events, including the three relays.
“You won’t hear anymore of the number eight,” his coach had confided then.
Sort of disappointment
However, London again has been a sort of disappointment for Phelps’ fans across the world — going without a medal in the 400m individual medley and settling for silver in the 400m free relay and the 200m butterfly prior to the historic gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay.
Reflecting on the monumental achievement, the Russian legend, in the true spirit of Olympism, dubbed the American as the ‘world's greatest Olympian.’
“I think that keeping the Olympic world record for 48 years is long enough,” said the 77-year-old. By the way, I'm very thankful to Michael because thanks to him, I again have become quite famous. I wish he will keep the record for many decades to come.”
On a historical perspective, beyond the 19 medals, it should be conceded that Phelps deserves commendation for taking up the huge risk to his legendary status by showing up in London.
All the more reason…
Phelps indeed would have known that this was not going to be Beijing. And this is all the more reason to celebrate the record achievement of the hero who has not been afraid to show his vulnerability.
Even if he fails to win any more medals in the remaining two days of the competition, Phelps, as usual, would remain the best and the greatest Olympian ever!