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For a moment, the quest to win a great eight gold medals in a single Games was placed on hold to appreciate the bigger picture, the lifetime body of work. From a child who struggled with ADHD growing up to the golden god of international sport, it's been an incredible 23-year journey. "To be the most decorated Olympian of all time, it just sounds weird saying it," Phelps said. "I have absolutely nothing to say. I'm speechless."
Mike Greenberg and Buster Olney discuss the dominance of Michael Phelps at the Olympics and try to compare his achievements to other great athletes' throughout history. Podcast
He's not just the greatest athlete in Beijing, and he's not just the greatest swimmer ever. He's the greatest Olympian ever. "There's nobody in any sport that can win like he wins," declared American men's swimming coach Eddie Reese. "He's not just winning, he's crunching world records and crunching the field." Not even a leaky pair of goggles could stop the Phelps Crunch on Wednesday morning -- and a leaky pair of goggles is the height of irritation for a swimmer. It's like running a marathon with your shoes untied. It's worse than wearing no goggles -- and Phelps gladly would have ripped the goggles off and gone without, but they were kept in place by two swim caps.
"I knew there was nothing I could do," Phelps said. "I could just swim."
|Michael Phelps won his 10th and 11th career golds Wednesday to become the most decorated gold medalist in Olympic history.|
This was world record by feel, not by sight. Only Michael Phelps does this. "Just think how fast that would have been," Reese mused. "We were looking for an amazingly fast swim, the way he'd swam in prelims and semifinals -- at least a second better than that." Phelps was visibly angry with his lousy world record when he got out of the pool. An hour later, he was back in the water and ready to take out his aggravation in the 4x200 freestyle relay. He swam the fastest lead leg ever in that event, threatening the 200 free world record he set a day earlier, and helping the Americans smash the world mark by nearly five seconds. Phelps' consistency can become almost anesthetizing -- so consistently good that you become numb to it. But the Water Cube housed the proof Wednesday that living up to incredibly high standards isn't always easy. The proof was fellow Baltimore product Katie Hoff. She came into these Olympics favored to win five individual medals, at least a couple of them gold. So far, she has two medals in four events, one silver and one bronze. Hoff missed the podium twice Wednesday, finishing fourth in the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley. That should only sharpen the admiration for what Phelps has done.
Four-time gold medalist John Naber says he thinks Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer ever. Story
The view from British freestyler Simon Burnett, as told to Reese at the Olympic Village cafeteria: "He's not from another planet. He's from the future, and his father sent him back in a time machine. Sixty years from now, he's only an average swimmer, but he's sent him back here to mop up." The view from four-time gold medalist Inge de Bruijn, who is in Beijing as a Dutch television analyst: "He's so young, and yet so experienced and so clever. He's the man. He's my No. 1 favorite. "The expectations are so high, but he puts it high for himself. You come in as the world-record holder, but still you've got to prove it. It is the moment sublime, the moment of truth. He is always ready. I really, really hope he's going to get the eight." For a day, at least, the eight could wait. For a day, it was enough for Michael Phelps to be the greatest Olympian of all time. Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.