Michael Phelps close to achieving Olympic immortality

August 12th, 2008 - 4:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Beijing, Aug 12 (DPA) Michael Phelps dives into the pool Wednesday with Olympic immortality in sight. The American swimmer requires just one more gold medal to become the first Olympian to win 10 career gold medals when he launches himself of the starting block for the 200 metres butterfly final.

Less than two minutes later he and the world will know whether Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, Finnish athlete Paavo Nurmi, US swimmer Mark Spitz and US athlete Carl Lewis are no longer the record holders with nine golds each.

The most successful Winter Olympian, by the way, is Norwegian cross-country star Bjorn Dahlie with eight golds.

“To be tied for the most Olympic golds with those names in Olympic history, it is a pretty amazing accomplishment. It is definitely an honour. I have met and spent time with Carl Lewis and exchanged words with Spitz. It is pretty amazing,” said Phelps Tuesday after getting his ninth career gold in the 200m freestyle.

Phelps, 23, came to Beijing with six golds (and two bronze) from the Athens 2004 Games and as the only man on the planet not thinking about history being in the making.

In fact, he made history in Athens as no other athlete has won eight medals at one Games. In Beijing he is now out to eclipse Spitz’ record seven golds from 1972 as he is competing in eight events.

“I am not even halfway done yet, just about halfway with my races. Most of the important ones are coming up. I take one race at a time and that’s the only thing I can do right now,” said Phelps.

Spitz, for his part, is well aware that Phelps will move ahead in overall golds and possibly in golds at one Games as well.

“He is perhaps the greatest swimmer that we’ve seen in the last 20 years. This time I think he’s going to break my record,” Spitz said ahead of the start of the Olympics.

The great distance runner Nurmi could still have top bragging rights because he could have raised his tally from 1920-1928 had he not been denied entry into the 1932 Games on charges that he was a professional runner.

Nurmi has three golds with teammates and so has Latynina, but the Russian gymanstic icon boasts the most overall medals ever with 19 (9-5-4) from her three Games 1956-1964.

Spitz and Lewis have been in relay races and so has Phelps — who in fact even got one 2004 gold for just swimming in the 4×100m medley relay heat and not the final.

Some Olympians also refer to American athlete Ray Ewry who won 10 golds (all on his own) in the discontinued standing jumps 1900-1908. However, two of them came in the so-called “Intermediate Games” 1906 in Athens, which in the late 1940s were declared not proper Olympics by the IOC.

But then again, Phelps can even surpass Ewry on Wednesday as — barring disaster in the Tuesday night heats — he was also due to swim in the 4×200m freestyle relay which could leave him with 11 golds by the end of the day.

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