One way to tell if you’re a big deal is scoring a prime time interview with Bob Costas during the Olympic Games.
As if there’s not enough going on to fill air time.
Michael Phelps sat in that chair and took questions from America’s top sports guy. Bob Costas must be the top since he’s also on prime time, and we already know Phelps is at the top of his mountain.
The questions started. The answers flowed. But something wasn’t quite right.
When asked what he hoped to achieve in the pool, Mike referred to another Mike. Not Mark. Instead of Spitz, he wanted to be the Jordan of his sport. Why go to another sport to set a goal? The Michael Jordan of swimming?
What would Jordan’s answer be to the same question?
“I want to be the Muhammad Ali of basketball.”If he didn’t say that, that’s what he’s become. Iconic figures stick together, or ought to. And Phelps joins them.
The swimming Michael showed all the grace of a good upbringing and manners when he added compliments to his relay teammates. He gets the team concept and decided not to keep all the limelight all to himself. The amount of gold from relays demands a team mention.
Michael Phelps proved he’s a good sport, but he’s also a good sports fan. He knows most athletes are interested in other Olympic events, especially when one competitor is busy breaking records that stood for decades. Phelps said he couldn’t lose his last race in China because all the NBA guys were in the house.
Switch it around and see if it makes sense. Would Shaq have made more free throws if every swimmer in the world was in the arena? All wearing Shaq-Fu goggles and rainbow wigs and waving signs saying “Hit it, Shaq, hit it good?” Or, “John 16″
On the way to his eight for eight golds in China, Bob mentioned the goggle leak that blinded Phelps. This wasn’t like the blind South Korean archer who has one good eye. This was eyefulls of water blinding someone swimming in a pool used by hundreds of international swimmers.
And we now know that even they can’t always make it to the dressing room on time. And with one mom’s admission that her son doesn’t date, he only goes on one night stands, there’s an added stinger.
That’s a vision blurring, eye roasting, solution that would make anyone squint.
How did the greatest swimmer in history deal with it? He counted his strokes. Must have counted correctly because he shaved it down to the last moment.
Bob asked the one question everyone begged for, “Why did you come back for the London Games?”
In true Super Star mode, Michael Phelps said, “Because I didn’t want a ‘what if’ after China.”
Who matches this sheet? It’s Phelps' third Olympics in China, from a fifteen year old in 2000, to a twenty-seven year old now.
He’s coming off the most dominant Olympic Games anyone has ever posted, with eight gold medals, kicking Mark Spitz’s seven for seven in ’72 to the curb along the way.
And he’s worried enough about a ‘what if’ that he hits the water one more time.
Listen, I’ve carried the Olympic Torch. Had it in my hands. Seriously. It changes you. At the time I was on a museum staff and the torch came in as a donation, so it’s not the sort of change Muriel Zagunis felt carrying the flag.
But I definitely felt something.
And I’ve won a gold medal. In high school wrestling, but it changed me, too.
I can’t imagine the feeling of making an Olympic team, of receiving a participant’s medal, let alone one from the podium. It’s awe inspiring and jaw-droppingly impossible.
After eight golds in eight tries, Michael Phelps doesn’t want a big, ugly, ‘What If’ on his back.
That’s what makes him the greatest Olympian ever, and a role model to follow. When the best isn’t good enough, and even when it is, there’s more.
There’s always more.
And it takes a great champion to show how much more.
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