Phelps - a subject of scrutiny and an object of envy

August 17th, 2008 - 7:07 pm ICT by IANS  

By V. Krishnaswamy
Beijing, Aug 17 (IANS) Michael Phelps has a ‘wingspan’ of only 208 centimetres. But when he gets into the pool and cuts through the water, it may as well be 2008. How appropriate it sounds. How the Chinese love him, for he so naturally adds to their auspicious theme of eight.

Eight gold medals! For god’s sake that is a number not more than half a dozen countries are likely to show for their presence in Beijing this fortnight.

Now everyone, right down to the man on the street, wants a piece of Phelps. And, it is available, too. Not just in the form of Speedo caps, but also his autographs, which rose in worth from $ 25 last week to $ 500 after his seventh gold to $ 1,000 after the eighth.

Phelps’ only rival in the first 10 days of the Games has been the spectacular August 8 Opening Ceremony. And maybe in the years to come, those who watched both will always be divided in their loyalties.

No heart-breaks. No ’so-close-and-yet-so-far’ stories. Phelps had eight gold and the crowd its moment. And, the pool area was a sea of flashes from pocket cameras all over the stands.

This was Phelps’ moment. After missing out on Mark Spitz’s 1972 record of seven gold at Athens - Phelps had only six gold and two bronze then - he had scored a perfect eight, a la Nadia Comaneci style.

Going back 16 years, Phelps, was first introduced to serious swimming around the age of seven to create an outlet for his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Now at 23, he is a subject of every scrutiny and an object of everybody’s envy.

There will now be studies over his long torso and short legs and an incredibly long reach and then that amazing power-to-weight ratio coupled with a mind that even the strongest can only aspire for.

Standing at six foot four and tipping the scales at 196 pounds, he is as close you can get to perfection.

To be called the ‘Greatest’ in a sport that has already seen Mark Spitz, Matt Biondi and Ian Thorpe is indeed great praise, but to be able to come back from an Olympic Games with a 100 percent record, when every action - including your personal life - is a subject of intense scrutiny, is indeed mind-boggling.

There are analysts, who contend comparing Phelps with those before him is not fair to the ones of the bygone era. Maybe.

For Phelps’ generation has technology to push them like never before. The Speedo LZR bodysuit’s corset-like grip allows swimmers to get the best body position in water and it also reduces the drag.

Then there is that small matter of swimming pools these days having 10 lanes, which allow for the two outside lanes to be left empty. It reduces turbulence, for that it what it creates when arms and legs move in a manner resembling a propeller underwater.

More discussions will emerge, but for the present, a million dollars bonus from his sponsors, Speedo, awaits him. Then there is much else waiting for him in terms of other sponsorships.

Three Olympics on, Phelps has 14 gold and two bronze and needs just two more medals to go past the 18 for gymnast Larissa Latynina from the Soviet Union. But Phelps is more than just gold medals.

Sport and United States needed a Michael Phelps. More so, after the fall from grace of Marion Jones and athletics in US.

China will likely finish on top of the golden heap, but United States may get more attention, courtesy, ‘Aquaman Michael Phelps’.

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