Wow! What’s not to like? He’s won going away, and in so doing he’s set the bar so high that it will be tough for any US athlete to beat and best his mark for gold medals won. But that’s how we like our heroes. We like it for them to be above us and beyond us and ahead of us. But with all of that privilege comes responsibility. And in the end, Phelps has shown himself to be a worthy champion.
Here’s a little bit of his bio and a short list of his Olympic accolades:
Michael Fred Phelps II was born on June 30, 1985 in Baltimore, Maryland and is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time record for Olympic gold medals at 23; 14 ahead of the second-highest record holders. Phelps also holds the record for Olympic gold medals in individual events at 13, and Olympic medals in individual events at 16.
In winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, Phelps broke fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz’s record of 7 first-place finishes at any single Olympic Games. Five of those victories were in individual events, tying the single Games record. In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals, making him the most successful athlete of the Games for the third Olympics in a row. And this year in Rio, we all watched Phelps win 5 gold medals and one silver.
Yet with all of the winning and medaling and achieving, Phelps has also had his handful of hiccups.
In November 2004, at the age of 19, Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Salisbury, Maryland. Asked about the incident later by Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Phelps said that he had “let a lot of people in the country down.”
In February 2009, publication of a photograph of Phelps using a bong resulted in the loss of the Kellogg Company as a sponsor, as well as a three-month suspension by USA Swimming. Phelps admitted that the photo, taken at a party at the University of South Carolina, was authentic. He publicly apologized, saying his behavior was “inappropriate”.
And in September 2014, he was arrested again, on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding in Baltimore, Maryland. As a result, USA Swimming suspended him from all competitions for six months, and stated he would not be chosen to represent the United States at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships.
But Phelps has overcome each and every stumble and bumble. He is retiring from the sport (again) and is going out on top, winning his last race. Phelps participated in five Olympics and won in four consecutive Olympic Games. Not too shabby.
Phelps now has a cute little boy and pretty little fiancée, and by all appearances, he seems to have handled the ups and bounced back from the downs of his life and career with a degree of class and composure. His major triumphs were on the grand stage, so if follows that his minor tragedies were equally public a swell. Because “to whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)
So congrats to you, Michael. You won the 4×100 medley relay in your last race. And after you won you marched around the arena with a “Thank you, Rio” banner. That was classy. You are a class act, and you will be a tough act to follow.