Phelps dwarfs GB achievements
Friday 15 August 2008
British swimming and Michael Phelps had good days at the office here today. Both will go to bed dreaming of turning six gold medals into seven. And there the similarities end.
Before day dawns on the Chinese capital tomorrow morning, six is the number of swimming golds won by Britain at the Olympics since WWII, with Rebecca Adlington's 800m freestyle final to come.
And six was the number won by Phelps. At this Games. Since last Sunday. His 100m butterfly final tomorrow, for a magnificent seventh gold, was scheduled, like Adlington's race, for morning time here, the early hours of Saturday in the UK.
The American reached his weekend fly race – a $1m dollar deal for him because of potential bonus payments from Speedo - just a few minutes after he had stepped down from the top of yet another podium.
His half-dozenth gold of these Games, and the 12th of his career, came in the 200m individual relay. The time he clocked to win it was his sixth world record in six finals. He led from the klaxon to the touch, clocking one minute 54.23sec, or more than half a second faster than his own previous mark, set at the US Olympic trials earlier this year.
Britain also enjoyed a record-breaking time. In the evening session, the women's 4x100m relay team broke the European record by 0.19sec to qualify second fastest for Sunday's final. The men's relay team also qualified, in fifth place, for their final on Sunday, the last swimming race at the Water Cube. David Davies also qualified, in fifth place, for Sunday's 1,500m freestyle final, in which he won bronze in Athens.
Yet those positive developments are nothing against one man's assault on history: Phelps's ongoing, mind-boggling, breathtaking achievements in this little stretch of water.
The peerless American already had nicknames before Beijing: the Baltimore Bullet and Superfish were two of them. Now he is also The GOOAT (Greatest Olympian of all time), although there are those who dispute it. Arguments against his case can only be dented with more metal before the end of the Games. By then he wants to be The Gooatee, e for ever providing the supplementary letters.
This morning's win moved him to within a solitary victory of equaling Mark Spitz's seven golds at one Games. Phelps' rivals can only get churned about like so much laundry in his wake.
The 6ft 4in calorie furnace was a whopping 2.29sec ahead of Hungary's Lazslo Cseh, who took the medley silver in a European record-breaking time. And Cseh was just 0.01sec ahead of Phelps' compatriot Ryan Lochte, who took bronze. Cseh and Lochte are no mugs. Lochte had earlier won the 200m backstroke in a world record time. Cseh is the best that the European continent can muster in several disciplines.
If Phelps had not been here, Cseh would almost certainly have won three gold medals this week. But Phelps – or MOO, Man of the Olympics – has now beaten him into silver place in two individual medleys and the 200m fly.
Phelps was happy to deal with inevitable questions that his feats are too good to be true. He knows his freakishly proportioned body and an unmatched thirst for the success that his hard work brings are what propel him.
“I know that I am clean,” he said, in response to a question about drugs. “I did 'Project Believe' with USADA (The US Anti-Doping Agency) where I purposely wanted to do more tests to prove that. People can question all they want but the facts are facts and I have the results to prove it.”
Project Believe is a voluntary testing programme where the participants provide additional blood and urine samples beyond the regular testing regime. Phelps is also featured in the “My Victory” campaign, encouraging young athletes to take a pledge against doping.
He admitted his natural talent was not enough to succeed. “I have to work on speed and endurance and all four strokes. I need the speed to get the starts and the endurance to carry it through. You can't do it on talent alone. A lot of hard work, a lot of dedication.”
Britain's Davies will have his work cut out to replicate his Athens bronze after his 1,500m heat turned out to be the fastest ever. "Unbelievable," he said. "It's going to be tough in the final."
The world record holder, Autralia's Grant Hackett, lowered the Olympic record to 14min 38.92sec to qualify fastest, with the USA's Ryan Cochrane second and Russian Yuriy Prilukzov third in a European record.
Earlier in the day, Fran Halsall finished eighth in the 100m freestyle final, as did Gregor Tait in the 200m backstroke. James Goddard and Liam Tancock were among those trailing far behind Phelps in his final. Like most people these days.
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