Home' The Wellingtonian : August 4th 2011 Contents 19
THE WELLINGTONIAN, AUGUST 4, 2011
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On the fly: Michael Phelps of the US competes in the men's 4 x 100m medley relay finals of the 14th FINA World
Championships in Shanghai on July 31.
Iintended keeping a close eye
on the world swimming cham-
pionships in Shanghai to fol-
low the fortunes of the New Zea-
land team, but Michael Phelps
ended up grabbing my attention.
Lauren Boyle was the star of
the New Zealand contingent. The
24-year-old made three finals --
the 200 metre and 800m freestyle
and the 4 x 200m freestyle relay.
In addition, Gareth Kean swam
three straight personal bests in
finishing eighth in the 100m back-
Besides the four finals, New
Zealand recorded six semi-final
placings, so it was a solid effort.
What the team lacked was one
swimmer of Danyon Loader's cal-
ibre. He once won three medals at
a world championship.
Despite the New Zealand
heroics, I became increasingly
engrossed in the effort of Amer-
ican Michael Phelps to maintain
his dominance of world swim-
Phelps, just turned 26, can
mount a strong case to being the
greatest Olympic athlete, and per-
haps the greatest athlete, ever.
I recall watching him at the
Sydney Olympics in 2000. He was
just 15 and finished fifth in the
Australian Ian Thorpe was the
big noise at those games. The
media was infatuated with
Thorpedo'' and there wasn't
much time to think about a
However, Phelps was soon a
brilliant rival for Thorpe. Their
battles at the 2004 Athens
Olympics were engrossing.
Since then Phelps has had the
show pretty much to himself, until
this year in Shanghai, when fel-
low American Ryan Lochte
knocked him off his perch.
Phelps has vowed to redouble
his efforts and fire at the 2012
I'm dubious. The span at the top
in swimming is usually very short,
and Phelps has done amazingly
well to have endured this long.
But people have come unstuck
making predictions about Phelps
before. Thorpe, for example,
scoffed when Phelps suggested he
wanted to win eight gold medals
at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Phelps duly went out and did it.
Phelps has won 14 Olympic gold
medals and two bronzes, so is the
leading gold medal winner, and
behind only Russian gymnast
Larisa Latynina (18 medals, nine
gold) for total medals won.
He has also won the small mat-
ter of 24 world championship gold
It's easy to somewhat discount
Phelps' medals by saying he is at
an advantage because swimmers
can compete in multi events.
Ethiopian Abebe Bikila was a
great marathon runner, but won
just two gold medals. Or what
about our own Valerie Adams --
how long would it take her to com-
pile a record like Phelps', compet-
ing as she does in the shot put?
It's impossible to definitively
nominate the greatest Olympic
performance. Among the
candidates are Carl Lewis (nine
golds, including four in consecu-
tive games in the long jump),
Mark Spitz (seven swimming
golds in 1972, all in world-record
time), Dawn Fraser (three con-
secutive 100m freestyle gold
medals), Paavo Nurmi (nine run-
ning gold medals over three
Olympics) and gymnast Vera Cas-
lavska (11 medals over three
games). I thought Lasse Viren's
double double'' of 5000m and
10,000m gold medals at successive
Olympics was a bit special. So was
Jesse Owens' four sprint/long
jump golds in 1936. And rower
Stephen Redgrave's five gold
medals in consecutive games.
It's a long list, and that's only
scratching the surface. But it is
unarguable that Phelps belongs at
least alongside any of them.
It's easy to take current stars
for granted. But after Phelps has
shown a chink in his armour at
Shanghai, we are starting to truly
appreciate what a phenomenon he
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