|ESPN.com: Summer 2008||[Print without images]|
|Michael Phelps even swam well in his weakest discipline -- the breaststroke -- en route to winning gold in the 400 IM on Sunday in Beijing.|
It was, quite simply, the very best performing at his very best. "That was his best race," said Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman. And he didn't mean his best race of the month or the year. He meant the best race of his life. Which is like saying you heard the best of Mozart's concertos, read the best of Shakespeare's sonnets or watched the best of Tiger Woods' rounds of golf. It's special. Historically special. "When you consider the circumstances," Bowman continued, "everything around it, to win like that under those expectations and pressure, it's kind of amazing." Clearly, pressure is not going to be a factor in this grand medal chase. When a guy can perform like that with the president in the house and much of America glued to the tube, he's impervious. At least until he reached the podium. Phelps is so routinely amazing, so seemingly immune to any deviation in performance, that you almost forget he's human. But there was the refreshing reminder during "The Star-Spangled Banner." With his hair freshly buzzed, his Magnum PI mustache shaven and those watery eyes, he looked younger than his 23 years. He looked like a kid fulfilling a dream. It was nice to see him that way, to be reminded that he's not just a swimming cyborg.
|Phelps showed rare emotion on the podium Saturday after winning the first of a possible eight gold medals in Beijing.|
Maybe that's the guy's secret. He can smile (and presumably breathe) while submerged. "I can't express enough how excited I am to be able to start off with that event and the time I posted," Phelps said. Now, he has to completely forget it happened. Roughly 7½ hours after talking to the media on Sunday morning, Phelps will be back in the pool for the preliminaries of the 200-meter freestyle. Among those he'll face in that event is Korean Taehwan Park, who surprisingly won the 400 free on Sunday morning in the sixth-fastest time ever, and the fastest time by someone not named Ian Thorpe. Somehow, we think Phelps will be ready for the challenge. "I think I'm as prepared as I can be at this moment," he said. "I'm in probably the best shape of my life." The meet of a lifetime has now begun for Michael Phelps, with the opening act surpassing even his own script. And the Chinese have seven more chances to get the anthem right. Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.