Reflecting on eight
To: Kevin, et al.
Subject: Before we talk about 2012...
The rail at Churchill Downs... in the shade at Amen's Corner... ringside at a heavyweight title fight... the Wrigley bleachers... in front of the Crazies at Cameron Indoor Stadium...
I'm not sure what you think the coolest seat in sports is, Kevin, but I got to think being at the Water Cube these past nine days is pretty close to the top. And sitting in front of a television and soaking it all in from home is not a bad second place.
Put simply: I'd never seen anything quite like it, and I don't think I ever will again. Eight races, eight gold medals, seven world records. A couple of the races stood out, but there will be nothing like the moment that followed the final relay. You knew it was coming -- you knew he was about to win No. 8 -- yet there was still a sense of shock when it was over, when the realization slapped you in the face. Oh sweet, merciful ghost of Poseidon, Michael Phelps just won eight gold medals at the Olympics.
What stands out the most? Was it that initial win in the 400 IM, in which Phelps dominated the field and set the tone for the ensuing week of swimming?
Or the 200 fly, in which Phelps swam with water-filled goggles?
Or the 400 freestyle relay, in which Jason Lezak soared from behind to keep Phelps' streak alive?
For me, it's probably the 100 fly, in which Phelps himself soared from behind, and incredibly out-touched Milorad Cavic, even though Cavic's fingers were inches from the wall and Phelps' were still miles behind.
Phelps said it best, though. He wouldn't pinpoint a high-point. It's the entire experience that he'll carry with him, and I think that might apply for most of us. The collection of races is what's truly remarkable. And along the way, he found a way to exhibit a bit of everything.
A little behind-the-column for you: Once Lezak won the 400 free relay for the Americans, I was pretty sure Phelps was going to win all eight. I identified the four major attributes that make Phelps the champion he is, and plotted my ensuing columns around these themes. I just lucked out that he exhibited these attributes almost perfectly on schedule:
-- Amazing ability to compartmentalize and focus in Wednesday morning's double;
-- A showcase of genetic brilliance and a lifetime of preparation in even tackling such a program;
-- A competitive fire that we rarely see, evidenced by his topping Ryan Lochte yet again;
-- His incredible athleticism, which propelled him past Cavic over the final meters of the 100 fly, not to mention that one final stroke that pushed him to the wall.
The week of swimming is something that'll stick with me for a long, long time. I suspect this will be the case for many Americans. Just to be sure, as I walked out, I grabbed my press ticket -- required for entrance -- and slid it into my bag. I don't usually keep mementos from sporting events. But I also don't usually see something that years later, I'll still be talking about with family and friends.
(Photos: Associated Press)