In the current 2012 London Olympics, Michael Phelps broke a record that required the ability of a truly phenomenal athlete. Phelps broke a 40 year old record held by Larisa Latynina from USSR for the most career olympic medals. Latynina, a gymnast, held the count at 18 olympic medals. Not only did Phelps tie the record and pass it, he breezed by and smashed the record with 22 medals.
The first event, the 400 Individual Medley, took off with the most publicized rivalry in the history of swimming. The theme of the 2012 Olympics showcased the headline, Lochte vs. Phelps, almost everywhere. The results of the 400 IM was thought to tell the outcome of the Olympics and answer who was the better swimmer. Yet Phelps failed to make the medal stand, placing fourth, trailing nearly 4 seconds behind the first place Lochte. His failure to medal put doubt into fans everywhere that he had peaked in Beijing and would not become the most decorated Olympian of all time.
From then on Phelps kept progressing through the games seemingly unaffected by his defeat. USA earned a 2nd place finish in the 4×100 freestyle relay and it was the 200 fly that graced Phelps with a silver, totaling 18 medals. The USA’s 4×200 freestyle relay gave a dominating performance awarding Phelps his 19th medal. Being the most decorated Olympian by 1 medal was not enough for Phelps. He then earned 3 more golds in the 200 IM, 100 fly, and 4×100 medley relay redeeming himself from his earlier loss to Lochte.
The focus on the Lochte and Phelps showdown had everyone from children to athletes to fans engaged in the rivalry. Swimming has hit headlines recently with features from Vogue to Sports Illustrated, shining the sport with a spotlight it had never seen before. It wasn’t a personal victory for Phelps, it was global. He single handedly impacted the sport of swimming forever. Swimming did not have the popularity in the past of many other Olympic sports and seemed to lack the excitement needed. Today, viewers see swimming as an enthusiastic sport that will continue to draw in kids who want to swim and be Michael Phelps.
Michael Phelps ended his Olympic reign with 18 golds and 22 Olympic medals, 4 more than any other athlete in any other sport. In addition to Beijing 2008 where he broke the record for the most gold medals in a single Olympics, Phelps has gone out and broken every record an Olympian hopes to achieve. In every way possible, he is the greatest Olympian of all time.