By Joey Merkel
Though the event takes place thousands of miles away in Beijing, this year’s Olympics really hit home for me as fellow Towson High School-graduate Michael Phelps was set to make history.
Beginning August 9, people from all over the world were witnesses to something that had never been done before. Eight gold medals by one athlete in a single Olympics.
Before the games had started, it was questioned; could it really be done? Could one person be so dominant in every aspect of his or her sport as to blow away the competition in eight separate events?
On August 16 at a little after 11 p.m. EST, the world watched as the American made history. After he and his teammates won the 4×100 medley, Phelps had collected his eighth gold medal.
Since the end of the 2004 games in Athens, experts realized Mark Spitz’s record of seven gold medals in one Olympics was breakable. After Phelps won six gold medals at just 19 years old, the stage seemed already set for a “Phelps vs. the World” showdown in Beijing.
It was in his second gold medal race that Phelps would be given one of his very few challenges along the way to eight. For it was not just himself he had to rely on, but his relay teammates as well.
Going into the race the Americans were underdogs to the powerful French team, racing in the lane to the left of the U.S. Heading into the fourth leg of the race, it was Jason Lezak, the oldest member of the team at 32, who would show his power.
Behind over .6 seconds, Lezak had a lot ofground to make up in only 100 meters. Time was running short to catch the French-mammoth Alain Bernard. Closer and closer he got, it didn’t seem possible, Bernard was slowing and Lezak was in stride. As both hit the wall, “1) UNITED STATES 2) FRANCE” lit up in the lanes immediately. Lezak, with the best 100m freestyle time in the history of swimming edged out Bernard by just .08 seconds.
That night and for the next few days, it was being called the best race in a pool, ever. How could a race like that be upended? Come from behind, photo finish and part of Phelps’ history making road to eight gold medals.
The answer would come just a couple days later. Friday night in America/Saturday morning in Beijing, Phelps’ biggest test would come in the 100m butterfly. Fellow American Ian Crocker and Serbian Milorad Cavic were both gunning for the number one spot.
At the 50 meter split, Phelps’ name was not in the top three and it looked as if his run in Beijing would come to an end. With just 15 meters to go, things got interesting, when from out of nowhere Phelps was suddenly only a couple strokes off the leader’s, Cavic, pace.
At the wall, it was as close as it could be. But as “1) PHELPS” lit up in the pool, it left fans wondering “how in the world did he come back”? Cavic was edged out of first by Phelps with just a .01 second margin.
An unbelievable finish was all that was needed to end the fairytale-esque run at Beijing for Phelps.At the end of the swimming events, in just nine days time, Phelps had broken six world records in the races alone.
On top of the six races, he set the records for most gold medals in a single Olympics (8), most gold medals in a career (14), most total medals in a career by a male athlete (16). If Phelps can copy any of his success in London, he will surely move into first for most total medals ever.