An Even Higher Bar for Phelps?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jason Reed / Reuters

Gold medallist Michael Phelps, right, of the United States celebrates with South Korea's silver medallist Park Tae-hwan after the men's 200m freestyle swimming final on August 12

As much media attention as Michael Phelps gets, there are certain things the world's best swimmer keeps to himself. He has never, for example, talked about his personal Olympic goals. Winning eight gold medals, he says over and over, is a quest that the media have concocted. Other than saying that he wants to win one gold medal coming out of the Games, nobody knows what kind of meet in Beijing would make him happy. His goals are between and U.S. coach Bob Bowman and himself.

Well, the secret might be out. Phelps collected his third win in the Water Cube in the 200m freestyle on Aug. 12 — and his third world record. "Being in lane six, I was out of the middle of the pool. I knew that if I jumped first, the guys in the middle of the pool wouldn't be able to see me, and by the time they did, hopefully I had enough ground where I could hold them off," he said of his record-breaking win.

Could he and Bowman have set an astoundingly high bar of not only winning eight gold medals, but of earning eight new world records in the process? With any other swimmer, the very thought would be ridiculous. But with Phelps ...

Of course, Phelps won't admit to it. But if you're as gifted as he is in the water, and you shrug off world records as easily as a coat, no mere clocks will keep you feeling challenged — you need something to motivate you. Setting eight new marks in a single meet might do it — Phelps has already broken five world records in a meet at last year's World championships. What's three more? Next up are the 200m butterfly, in which he owns eight of the top 10 performances ever, and the 4x200m freestyle relay, in which the U.S. are the defending Olympic champions. Should be a dip in the pool.

And it's not like Phelps is basking in the golden glow alone. The U.S. swim team's stash of 15 medals is five more than they had earned in the same events in Athens — including two more golds, both of which belong to Phelps. Minutes after Phelps destroyed the world record in the 200m freestyle, Natalie Coughlin made history by being the first woman to defend the 100m backstroke at the Olympics. Aaron Peirsol held on to his Olympic champion title in the 100m backstroke by setting a new world record, and Olympic newcomer Rebecca Soni, a last minute substitute in the 100m breaststroke after teammate Jessica Hardy was pulled off for a doping violation, collected an unexpected silver. "It's great to see others getting involved, especially when everyone is so competitive," says Mark Schubert, head national team coach. Even if Phelps isn't willing to bear his soul, at least he seems willing to share in his speed.