It’d be a lot easier for detractors to dismiss all that “greatest of all time” talk if kinesiology junior Michael Phelps would simply stop breaking records.
An eight-time Olympic medallist and Club Wolverine swimmer, Phelps eclipsed his own world record when he won the 400-meter individual medley at the world championships in Melbourne two weeks ago. Even more impressive than the race that won him his seventh gold medal during the weeks’ events – equaling Mark Spitz’s medal record of seven golds at the 1972 Olympics – was how he won it. His time in the medley, 4 minutes, 6.22 seconds, lowered the record he’d set at the 2004 Athens Olympics by more than two seconds. And in a sport where athletes win or lose by hundredths of a second, that’s an eternity.
“It was definitely incredible, maybe one of the greatest sports performances of all time,” said Peter Vanderkaay, a Club Wolverine teammate and one of the swimmers who won the 4×400-meter freestyle relay gold with Phelps at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “I’m sure a lot of people don’t realize how special this is, but it’s an incredible achievement.”
Although Phelps himself wasn’t available for an interview (he’s currently in China, Vanderkaay said), other varsity and Club Wolverine swimmers echo Vanderkaay’s praise.
“Personally, I’m kind of blown away, but I sort of expected it, just watching him train,” said Jamie Martone, a swimmer on Michigan’s varsity team. “He’s been pouring his heart and soul out in the pool.”
Each time people have said Phelps is on the verge of plateauing, he’s consistently been able to prove them wrong, said Chris DeJong, another Club Wolverine swimmer.
“He’s had some amazing performances,” said DeJong. “He has an uncanny ability to convince himself, despite anything that’s going on in his environment, that it’s his day to swim fast.”
Of course, there have been times when the idea of Phelps breaking the records he set in Athens by whole seconds would have been laughable.
Amid the lingering press in the months following the Olympics and his arrival at the University, there was that unfortunate DUI in November 2004 and an irksome back injury.
But it looks like Phelps has made more than a full recovery, and his performance at the world championships might only be the beginning.
“I would not be surprised (if) the world champs were a great forecast of how he’s going to do in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London,” Martone said. “He’s just setting himself up for excellence.”