May 14, 2012

A Legacy at Stake? Michael Phelps Holds the Weight of the Swimming World on His Shoulders in the 2012 London Games

By - Kyle Malinowski

When one assesses the pantheon of American Olympians, male swimmer Michael Phelps would certainly contend for the title of the greatest Olympian of all-time.

Photo by: Heinz Kluetmeier
As the record holder of the most gold medals (14) ever won during the Summer Olympic Games, Phelps has nothing left to prove concerning his remarkable prowess in the water.

The last time America focused its attention squarely on Phelps was during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in which he went 8-for-8 by taking gold in all of the events he participated in. He almost did not achieve perfection in Beijing, but his close call in the 100-meter butterfly only added to his legend.

In perhaps the most memorable image of his career, Phelps won his 7th gold by one-hundredth of a second over Serbia's Milorad Cavic. It was only fitting that our most decorated Summer Olympian was not denied history in a photo finish.

Following the Beijing Games, Phelps was a hero and the epitome of perfection. The word that summed him up best: Dominating.

In the summer of 2012 though, at the London Olympic Games, he will most likely not be given a pass by the American public because of his past success. When Phelps chose to once again don the stars and stripes for his third Olympic Games, success in the pool instantly became the expectation.

This is the question I have: How will Michael Phelps be remembered if he does not win another gold medal? Will he be viewed as lazy? If he fails, will it be argued that he was satisfied with his performance in Beijing and did not care if he won in London?

Fair or unfair, Phelps has raised the bar so high that even the greatest swimmer in the world may not be able to match his past exploits. Therefore, shouldn't we view the London Games as a farewell, an opportunity to see him soar through the water during prime time one last time and not care if he wins?

In an ideal world -- yes, that would be the case; however, I have a feeling that Phelps will not be given that luxury.

Similar to Tiger Woods, who is still even in his average form picked to win almost every major golf tournament he enters, Phelps will also be held to a standard of winning gold -- or having London be viewed as a colossal failure and an unfortunate ending to a storybook career.

John Elway finished his Hall of Fame career winning back-to-back Super Bowls. But Michael Jordan didn't end his career on the jumper against the Utah Jazz as a Chicago Bull, but instead as a Washington Wizard, leaving us with a bad taste in our mouths. So, Phelps is definitely taking a risk by competing in London.

Since four years has passed, Phelps may not be held to a standard of winning gold in all of his events like he did in Beijing, but medaling -- or at least winning one gold medal is surely expected. Should Phelps fail to medal and appear to be a shell of his once great self, he will be Michael Jordan, not John Elway.

We want to remember Michael Phelps the champion, not Michael Phelps the loser. However, alternatively the London Games could also greatly add to his legend and cement him as the greatest Olympian of all-time should he do remarkably well and win at least a few gold medals. He would have then dominated the water over a 12-year time span of Olympic competition, a feat nearly impossible to be duplicated.

Succeed or not, Phelps' legacy won't ever be viewed as a failure, because the number of medals and records he holds speak for themselves.

It is without question though, if Phelps wants to make an even bigger impact on the popularity of swimming as a competitive sport, winning medals in London would do wonders.

For an Olympian to hold our attention once the torch is smoldered, they have to be out-of-this-world amazing in their accomplishments on the field of play, or in Phelps' case -- in the pool.

If he does well in London, it will without a doubt add tremendously to his worldwide fame; however, should he do poorly, USA swimming might decline in popularity with him. Phelps has that much weight on his shoulders.

Can you name another American swimmer competing in London? Exactly. Michael Phelps IS American swimming like Tiger Woods WAS golf. Therefore, I sincerely hope that Phelps is his old self in London so that we remember him as the champion that he is, and so that American swimming continues to succeed and possibly produce Phelps' successor.


  1. No mention of the fact that he's a pothead? That's selective journalism if I ever saw it. LOL

  2. How does the fact he smoked weed have any relevance to this story? Should every Tiger Woods story include that he is "sex addict" and adulterer? Should an article on a Floyd Mayweather boxing match talk about how he hit his wife? I firmly believe that barely anybody cares that Michael Phelps smoked weed as long as he wins gold medals. This country is very forgiving to athletes that win. Kobe Bryant cheated on his wife. Big Ben was a complete scoundrel with that girl in a Georgia bar bathroom? Do those stories follow those guys around in every story about them? Gimme a break dude.

  3. Like you mentioned, its hard not to expect great things from Phelps when he dominated the way he did in Beijing. While I dont see him winning 7-8 golds again, I would be surprised if he doesnt bring home 2-3. Shocked even.

  4. Great athletes have a tendency to rise to the occasion on the biggest stages, so don't be surprised if Phelps dominates in London much like the way he dominated in Beijing.

    That's what the great ones do.