The Olympic swimming competition is done, a development that has landlubbing NFL fans celebrating. But even the most chlorine averse among us has to admit that what Michael Phelps accomplished in Rio was pretty cool.
The best swimmer in history came away with five gold medals and a silver medal. He did it at 31, which isn’t ancient, though it might be AARP-card worthy by swimming standards. He won the 200-meter butterfly and the 200 individual medley, and grabbed silver in the 100 butterfly. His other three golds came in relays, which he dominated.
How did this happen? Easy: a combination of freakish natural ability, a body built for swimming and an aura that had competitors behind even before they started. You can’t teach 6-foot-4, an 80-inch wingspan, and hands and feet that seem better suited for a platypus.
It’s why no one should be surprised if Phelps competes in Tokyo in 2020. He has gone out of his way to say Rio was his last stand, but two things say “not so fast:”
One, it’s hard for these people to let go. The lure of medals, money and affirmation every four years is very difficult to abandon. Look at former American swimmer Dara Torres, who competed in the 2008 Olympics at 41.
Two, it’s possible Phelps could own Tokyo. No one has stepped forward to be the next big name in so many different events. No one looks remotely close to being the next Michael Phelps, no easy task.
He sneaked up on me in these Olympics. Maybe I wasn’t paying much attention to the buildup or perhaps I thought NBC was playing him up the way it always does with stars (see Missy Franklin). But I didn’t expect Phelps to come away from these Games as one of the two biggest stories of swimming, along with Katie Ledecky.
Rio didn’t look like it was going to be the done deal for Phelps that Athens, Beijing and London were. And then it was.
So why not Tokyo? He’ll take a year or two off, then dip a toe in the pool. You watch.