No matter how many medals Michael Phelps takes home with him to Baltimore, his London Olympics will undoubtedly be told at least partly as a story of what he failed to achieve. Even in the midst of setting the record for the most medals ever won on Tuesday, Phelps also showed his mortality in the pool, losing by the slightest margin.
All of this for the greatest swimmer the world has ever seen.
For a moment, we'll let the disappointment and heavy cost of miniscule errors in the 200-meter butterfly overshadow Phelps' 19th medal, which came in a stroll to the finish as the anchor of the U.S. men's 4x200-meter freestyle relay.
But the prevailing memory of Phelps' singular dominance in his sport should be the Beijing Olympics. With every race in England that perhaps exposes his age, unfortunate luck, hastened training, or the fierce desire of those who have been in his wake for the last decade, Phelps also reminds us of the untouchable standard that he set in 2008.
A quick reminder of what took place. He undertook 17 swims in nine days. He swam in eight events and won eight gold medals, seven of them with world records, including breaking his own world mark in three disciplines. That was after he'd narrowly fallen short of Mark Spitz's seven golds in 1972 with six golds and two bronzes at Athens in 2004.
With 15 golds now in his possession, Phelps has more by himself than 170 of the 204 national teams recognized by the International Olympic Committee. With the 200-meter individual medley still remaining, his total might not be finished going up, and it's a number that will go down in history.
Meanwhile, most people hardly remember that Phelps, at age 15, placed fifth in 200 IM at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Alongside that race is where Phelps' second place on Tuesday and his fourth-place finish in the 400-meter IM last weekend will soon reside.
- Craig Stouffer