Michael Phelps won his first gold just four years ago in Athens. Yesterday in Beijing, Phelps repeated the feat for the 10th and 11th times, winning the 200-meter butterfly and swimming the opening leg of the 4 x 200 freestyle relay, giving him more gold medals than any Olympian in the history of the games.
Phelps’ historic run has been so stunning, even his competitors are grasping for ways to define his greatness. British swimmer Simon Burnett and U.S. men’s head coach Eddie Reese were walking into the cafeteria this week when Reese said Burnett told him, “I think I’ve figured out Michael Phelps. He’s not from another planet. He’s from the future. His father made him and made a time machine. Sixty years from now he is an average swimmer, but he has come back here to mop up.”
“I’m almost kind of at a loss for words,” Phelps said. “Growing up, I always wanted to be an Olympian. Now to be the most decorated Olympian of all time, it just sounds weird saying it. I just have absolutely nothing to say. I’m speechless.
Phelps grabbed that title in what’s become his typical fashion - he set his fourth world record in capturing the 200 fly in 1 minute, 52.03 seconds, which is .06 seconds faster than the world record he set in the preliminaries just the day before. And he was part of his fifth world record when the 4 x 200 free team finished in 6:58.56, an obscene 4.64 seconds faster than the previous mark.
Even more remarkable is the fact that Phelps won the fly despite his goggles filling with water as he approached the 150-meter mark in the race.
His teammates are in awe of him, and they understand Phelps on another level having prepped for the games with him, and since they too have spent their lives training for this moment. Aaron Peirsol, who after capturing three gold medals in Athens will surely go down in history as one of the best U.S. swimmers ever, said, “It may be once in a century we see something like this. The rest of the world is catching up to the U.S., the way I look at it – quite a bit. For him to be doing what he’s doing at this moment in time, with the rest of the world coming up the way it is, I think that speaks volumes. And the way he’s attacking this meet, too – he’s not just winning, he’s absolutely destroying every race. It’s awesome to watch. It’s inspiring to me.”
Phelps nonchalance about his extraordinary accomplishments certainly makes him even more endearing to fans and foes alike. When Phelps locked up his ninth gold, his coach, Bob Bowman, casually reminded him of the company he had entered, having tied with likes of American icons Carl Lewis and Mark Spitz and Finnish distance runner Paavo Nurmi and Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina.
“You’re tied,” Bowman told Phelps.
“Huh,” he replied. “That’s pretty cool.”