Michael Phelps

August 6, 2012 Jason Lezak

No matter what sport, profession or occupation you follow, Michael Phelps is an example of excellence. He is not always the winner but is always the best at what he does.

He began the Olympics disastrously, failing to medal in the 400-meter individual medley. There were serious questions the next day whether he deserved to swim on the 4 x 200 freestyle relay. Then he was touched out in the 200 butterfly and had to settle for silver.

It seemed the Phelps of Beijing was history, the man couldn’t live up to the legend and had aged into another over-the-hill veteran. But Phelps proved to be a real champion by rising to the occasion, by performing way above expectations, and he ended the meet and his career with four more gold medals.

The race he lost, the 400 meter individual medley, is a gutsy challenge. Phelps hated the pain but managed to surmount it even when he hadn’t trained hard enough to win. While this was the one event he didn’t medal in at these games, it proved in defeat he is a true champion. I have swum this event, no where near his exalted level — trust me, it is painful. It doesn’t look it because the swimmers are in the water and you literally can’t see them sweat.

Ryan Lochte, billed as Phelps nemesis, was a disappointment, if 2 gold medals can be one. The hype surrounding Lochte was sky high and he promised that this was “my time.” After his last event he went on a media blitz with appearances on NBC, CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Eurosport, E! and Access Hollywood. In one interview he confessed to urinating in the warm-up pool. But then what could you expect from a Florida Gator? Maybe we should name his performance “the great gator flop” (yes, I still hold a grudge from the first one).

Phelps was seventh in the 100 fly after 50 meters and passed all 6 competitors in the next 50 meters, to win the gold. Phelps started his leg of the medley relay behind and regained the lead. Lochte got a one-second head start in the 4 x 100  relay and lost it. Res ipsa loquitur.

Despite all Phelps’ success, I still admire Jason Lezak. The blue collar guy who out-performed all the golden boys of summer. Because, like Phelps in 2012, Lezak in 2008 pulled out from somewhere deep inside himself that extra effort to win.