Column by John Lohn, Swimming World senior writer
BASKING RIDGE, New Jersey, January 2. WITH the calendar flipping to 2012 over the weekend, many people have adopted resolutions for the next 365 days. Some have pledged to eat better. Others have sworn to hit the gym – or hit the weights harder. Still more have vowed to work harder at their given profession.
Well, here's a resolution for swimming fans around the world. Unless there is a change in plan, Michael Phelps has affirmed that the London Olympics, set for late July into early August, will account for his farewell to the sport at the highest of levels. That means we have just seven months left to value and appreciate what the North Baltimore Aquatic Club sensation has brought to the sport. Take the time to do just that – savor what Phelps has provided.
No matter what Phelps does during the London Games, his legacy has long been established as the finest in Olympic lore. He already owns the record for most gold medals, a total which stands at an astounding 14. He has the record for most gold medals in a single Olympiad, the eight he captured in Beijing nearly four years ago. And, chances are, he'll have the chance to stand in front of Buckingham Palace with more Olympic medals than anybody else. He needs three to surpass Larisa Latynina for that honor.
At the next Olympiad, we may see Phelps lose a race, as was the case at the past World Championships when Ryan Lochte got the best of his American teammate in the 200 freestyle and 200 individual medley. It can be said, though, that Lochte has reached his current level because of Phelps, who long ago raised the bar and forced Americans and the rest of the world to enhance their stocks if they even dreamed of staying close.
Lochte has spoken of his motivation to close the gap with Phelps and Phelps' powerful underwater kicking ability was picked up by other nations, which recognized that Bob Bowman had built a major advantage into his pupil. Really, Phelps can be considered a walking blueprint, someone who has made those around him – near and far – even better.
Along the way, Phelps has also elevated the interest in the sport in the United States. No, swimming doesn't have a regular spot on the tube. Since Phelps' emergence, however, television has aired – in addition to the Olympics, of course – the World Champs, United States Nationals and the Pan Pacific Championships.
And, Phelps' biggest influence may still reveal itself. When the Slayer of Spitz was collecting his eight gold medals in China, think of the younger kids who got an itch for swimming, or the parents who thought about getting their children involved in swimming when that was never before an idea. Some of those youngsters, in time, will become key members of the U.S. National Team while others will be engaged in a sport that can provide a lifetime of fitness.
Soon, the Michael Phelps era will conclude. Considering the hunger and drive he has shown through the years, he'll likely go out in impressive fashion. Until that happens, offer up some appreciation for what the man and Bowman have accomplished. We probably won't see it again.
****Wanted to get some discussion going on all-time finals, so during the next several months, we'll ask readers to put together historical eight-person championship finals in specific events. Fill out the field based on the greatest swimmers in history and post it in the comments section.
This Week: Men's and Women's 100 Backstroke.
The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Rick Carey; Warren Kealoha; Adolph Kiefer; Roland Matthes; John Naber; Aaron Peirsol; Jeff Rouse; David Theile.
Not surprisingly, this was a very difficult event to select due to several double-Olympic champions and world-record holders over lengthy spans, such as Rick Carey and John Naber. How impressive has the 100 backstroke been through the years? Well, the likes of Lenny Krayzelburg, David Berkoff and Martin Zubero and Igor Polyansky didn't make the top eight.
The Lohn Lineup (Alphabetical order): Sybil Bauer; Melissa Belote; Natalie Coughlin; Kirsty Coventry; Krisztina Egerszegi; Eleanor Holm; Betsy Mitchell; Karen Muir.
Because of the East German dominance during the systematic-doping era, especially the performances of Ulrike Richter, making selections was headache-inducing. There's a feeling that much argument might arise for this event. We'll see what you think.
Follow John Lohn on Twitter: @JohnLohn