Is There Really An ‘After Phelps’?

Commentary by Pamela Roberts

Today was an exciting day in the swimming community. After the last leg of the World Cup, Katinka Hosszu and Chad Le Clos were crowned winners, and the Arena Grand Prix series kicked off in Minneapolis.

But then something happened that over-shadowed everything and, in usual fashion, it had to do with one of the people who made swimming what it is today.

Michael Phelps.

As reported by Swimming World earlier today, news broke that Phelps was back in the drug testing pool of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as he was spotted pool-side at the Grand Prix in Minneapolis – something that heavily teases a comeback of the greatest of all time.

Swim fans across the world definitely got excited…Or not?

Personally, I have trouble remembering swimming before Phelps. Of course, I watched the Olympics as a little kid, and I remember people like the top German swimmers Michael Gross or Franziska van Almsick or people like Gary Hall Jr. and Ian Thorpe.

But I don’t remember them like I remember Michael Phelps.

I remember people saying “Keep an eye on that Michael Phelps” after the Sydney Olympics. I remember comments of “He is crazy good!” after the Athens Olympics. I remember the endless string of “Is he really going to do it?” during the Beijing Olympics and the craze after he had done it and won his eight gold medals to break Mark Spitz’s record.

And, of course, I remember him officially becoming the Greatest Of All Time during the London Olympics last year.

As did everyone, I knew that London was the last hurrah of Phelps’ impressive career. That he was going to retire (even though I always had an inkling that he wasn’t really going to stay retired). And to be perfectly honest, I was excited about life after Phelps. He was the face and name of swimming and I really was looking forward to see others stepping up, to be introduced to new faces and new names.

But, of course, Phelps has left a mark on the sport. Even though he was not there anymore, he still was present as if he was just about to walk onto the pool deck. There were many new and old faces who were still swimming and a lot of the time, a lot of people still focused about the one guy who wasn’t there.

During the World Championships in Barcelona, Phelps again was part of the news, only this time he was really there. And, for a day, it seemed to be the only thing everyone was talking about. I am not innocent there, I talked about him too. And it did occur to me how odd and almost bizarre it was that other swimmers were doing extraordinary things, but it was still Phelps appearance that had everyone up in a buzz.

And, for the first time, a thought popped into my head: Is there actually an after Phelps?

I may still have to wait a while longer to actually get to answer my own question. But what I can say is that, while a part of me is curious to see what Phelps still is able to do, another part of me (maybe even the bigger part) is wondering, what about the others?

I was looking forward to seeing what everyone else could really do. I was looking forward to hearing other names. Being a fan of Ryan Lochte, Phelps’ biggest competitor over the past years, I was looking forward to seeing just Ryan. Not Ryan reacting to Phelps, not Ryan chasing Phelps, just Ryan.

I also was looking forward to seeing what young guys like Tom Shields or Tom Luchsinger could do now that the butterfly was no longer dominated by Michael Phelps.

Phelps is still saying he’s just keeping his options open, so maybe we might actually see an After Phelps continue, but odds are it will be awhile.

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Author: Archive Team


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