Sunday, August 17, 2008
Ranking Phelps' eight great wins in Beijing
By Pat Forde
BEIJING -- Michael Phelps' eight gold-medal swims were all magnificent. But the world needs lists, so we're here to rank his great haul of China from most memorable to least:
1. 100-meter butterfly
Yes, this was the only race in which Phelps did not set a world record -- but what he did to reach the wall first was the stuff of legends. Apparently beaten by Milorad Cavic in the final meters, Phelps somehow squeezed in a rapid-fire final arm stroke to touch and win by one-hundredth of a second. Still-frame photos show Cavic inches from winning before Phelps made up ground and splashed in at the last instant. The fact it was his seventh gold, tying Mark Spitz's Olympic record and securing a $1 million bonus from Speedo, didn't hurt.
2. 400 freestyle relay
It's hard to find good help nowadays -- unless you're Michael Phelps, and you need a relay mate to perform a miracle on your behalf. That would be anchorman Jason Lezak, who roared back from a considerable deficit in the final 50 meters to stun Frenchman Alain Bernard by 0.08 of a second. Phelps certainly did his part, leading off the relay by swimming what at the time was the third-fastest 100 freestyle in history -- in an event that's far from his specialty.
3. 400 individual medley
This was Phelps' first swim of the Games, and the pressure on him to perform was undeniable. Not only was he the centerpiece of the pre-Olympic hype, but President George W. Bush was in the stands to watch. Phelps delivered and then some, smashing his own world record and crushing fellow medalists Laszlo Cseh and Ryan Lochte.
4. 200 butterfly
Phelps said this was the only swim that disappointed him, because he expected to swim much faster. But the fact that he broke his own world record after his goggles leaked only adds to the Phelps mythology. He said he was basically swimming while blind, guessing at where the wall was on his turns. Who needs to see to win gold? Not Phelps.
5. 200 freestyle
Phelps only qualified fourth-fastest for the final, but he wasted no time in burying his competition. Phelps exploded to a fast start and led the entire race, leaving runner-up Park Tae-hwan of South Korea and bronze medalist Peter Vanderkaay of the U.S. in his wake. Phelps easily broke his own world record and won by 1.89 seconds.
6. 200 individual medley
Phelps beat Cseh and Lochte the same way he beat them in the 400 IM -- with a strong breaststroke leg that gave him separation leading into the final 50 meters of the freestyle. Whereupon he broke his own world record, of course. The impressive thing is the fact that Phelps' only "weak" stroke is the breaststroke. Turning that into his secret IM weapon only further validated his astonishing versatility.
7. 800 freestyle relay
This was an American tour de force, led off by Phelps. He gave the Yanks a huge, 2.6-second lead, and the rout was on. They wound up winning by three seconds and smashing their own world record, on a day when Phelps had to swim two finals.
8. 400 medley relay
The final swim of the meet, and of the Phelps program, was highly anticipated but largely anticlimactic. The American relay was pushed, but led fairly comfortably for the final 125 meters. Phelps took the Americans from third to first during his butterfly leg, then watched anchorman Lezak close the deal again by holding off the Australians.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.