There was a lot of talk that it wouldn’t happen but when Phelps won his 7th gold medal – tying the 1972 record held by fellow swimmer Mark Spitz from the 1972 Munich Games – there was a collective pause in American national breathing. We hoped, we wanted, we even prayed, but could he really do it?
The answer: Oh, yes he can!
It took a team to make him the grandest of Olympic champions. And one last big push from Phelps himself.
Going hard right to the end of a mesmerizing nine days in Beijing, Phelps helped the Americans come from behind Sunday in a race they’ve never lost at the Olympics, cheering from the deck as Jason Lezak brought it home for a world record in the 400-meter medley relay. It was Phelps’ history-making eighth gold medal of these games.
Phelps ran the team’s 3rd leg – the butterfly – in an awe-inspring manner. His time was 50.something seconds (I can’t find the split time at the moment), a truly fantastic performance all on it’s own. The lead leg was the backstroke handled by Aaron Peirsol. The gold medal winner led the pack as he handed off to Brendan Hansen for the breaststroke. Hansen’s been called a “disappointment” in these games but while he didn’t extend the lead, his performance kept them in the race. There were some truly accomplished foes in the lanes around him. When Phelps hit the water the butterfly, though, he ate up the lead Australia and Japan had developed and passed off to Jason Lezak for the 4th and final leg, the freestyle.
Lezak was Mr. Magic earlier in the Games pulling off a stunning upset over the French in the 400-meter freestyle relay, chasing down French anchor Alain Bernard, literally in the last 20 meters, to win the gold and keep Phelp’s dream of 8-for-8 alive. Starting off on his leg in lead this time, Lezak maintained the magic and hauled team USA to a gold in the event and launching Phelps even further into history.
The Games never fail to capture the imagination and inspire a new generation. Not 50 feet from me at this very moment a young man is recovering from an injury and hoping to get back into the water soon to compete with his teammates on the University of Maryland swim team. He’s good, very good at it. I spoke with his father Friday morning and asked if he was watching the Olympics. He said his son might as well be welded to the TV and every race run makes him twitch to get back to pool. That he’ll be in the Olympics in the next few Games, I have no doubt. If it wasn’t already in his mind before, Phelps and his teammates have certainly installed it there now.
Ad nykus, team USA! Congrats to you, Michael Phelps, for your 8 golds!