Right before he dove into the pool the morning of Aug. 13, Michael Phelps got a text message from one of his buddies back home. "Dude, it's ridiculous how many times a day I have to see your ugly face," it read. At the end, his friend left simple instructions. "It's time to be the best ever."
Phelps complied. At the Beijing Water Cube around 10:30AM, Michael Phelps swam two races, and won more gold medals. He broke two more world records, and got himself a new title: the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time.
And what did you do this morning?
Continuing a daily routine that's becoming as familiar as a good cup of joe, Michael Phelps continued his obliteration of Olympic history, taking gold medals in both the 200m butterfly and the 4x200m freestyle relay. He now has five gold meals in these Olympics, and 11 in his career, moving past Mark Spitz, U.S. track and field legend Carl Lewis, ex-Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, and Finish distance runner Paavo Nurmi for the all-time record. In the end, "The Flying Finn" was struck from the book by a guy with fins.
"He is just a normal person, although he may be from a different planet," says Russian swimmer Alexander Sukhorukov. "A planet from a different galaxy."
During today's march towards immortality, Phelps' strongest opponent was his eyewear. During the final half of the butterfly race, his goggles filled up with water. "I couldn't see the wall," says Phelps. "They were getting more and more full throughout the race. I just hoped I was coming in first. I was kind of upset that it happened."
After touching the wall, he ripped off the goggles, and angrily looked up at the board. Once he saw he won, he didn't exactly lighten up; only Phelps could break a world record with a time of 1:52.03, and still look ticked. It wasn't fast enough. On the medal stand, between his butterfly race and relay, Phelps still refused to smile. You can't really blame him he had another race in less than 15 minutes. Hurry up with the anthems already.
As "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Phelps finally cracked. He said it all started to sink in, and he got a bit misty being the world's best Olympian will do that to you. "I was just sort of trying to focus on my next race, but you know, I just kept thinking, 'Wow, Greatest Olympian of All Time," says Phelps. "It's a pretty cool title, I guess."
You think? For now, Phelps is keeping cool because he still has work to do. The record for most golds at one Olympics, Spitz' seven, is still in front of him, though at this point it seems inevitable that Phelps will pass that milestone. He dove in to start the 4x200 freestyle relay, and gave his teammates a lead some weekend lap swimmer could hold. Phelps swam the fastest relay split in 4x200 history, 1:43.31. All the remaining U.S. swimmers, Ryan Lochte, Ricky Berens, and Peter Vanderkaay, had to do was avoid a cramp. They did, and went on as a team to break the world record by nearly five seconds, finishing in 6:58.56, the world's first sub-seven minute 4x200m. "We talked about breaking seven minutes," says Phelps, "and we did it."
Barring a disaster in the qualifying heats, Phelps will swim in the finals of the 200m individual medley on Aug. 15, the 100m butterfly on Aug. 16, and the 4x100m medley relay on Aug. 18. The potential record breaker the medley relay is the wild card right now: Brendan Hansen, America's best breaststroker, finished fourth in the 100m event this week. He was the defending world champ: time for Phelps to pump him up.
Today, though, was more about the moment. While Phelps wouldn't let himself get too worked up, his mom and sis picked up the emotional slack. "I have to keep telling myself, 'He hasn't just won more gold medals than any American,'" said Phelps' sister Hilary Phelps, 30, in the first row of the stands after the medal ceremonies. Her eyes were bulging, and she was talking fast. "He has more than anyone in the world!" But it was his mother, Debbie Phelps, who finally broke up. "I just think back to when he was 10 years old," she said. "I try to put it into words." Then came the waterworks. She stopped for a few seconds, and composed herself. "I just can't explain it," she finally said. Don't worry, Mom. You just did.