By Stephen J. Thomas
ATHENS, August 20. MICHAEL Phelps passed the torch to teammate Ian Crocker today, leaving it to him and his teammates to bring home Phelps’ sixth and final gold in the 400 medley relay tomorrow night.
Phelps swam the butterfly leg in the morning preliminary round, guaranteeing himself a share of whatever finish the final relay attains.
Phelps could have made a case that he should be on the relay again in the final. He could have claimed that since he won the 100 meter fly tonight, albeit by only 4-hundredths of a second — that he has the right to be on the final relay.
But instead, in an act of generosity and class, Phelps passed the torch to his teammate and world record-holder, Ian Crocker, to bring home the gold. Without this opportunity Crocker would have missed a chance to take home gold here having collected a silver and bronze thus far.
“We came into this meet as a team,” Phelps said. “We’ll leave here as a team.”
That statement says it all about Phelps' character as well as his goals.
Phelps had already matched Mark Spitz’s record of four individual swimming gold medals before he gave up his spot on the 400-meter medley relay team to Ian Crocker. With five golds in hand and seven medals overall, Phelps is content to win a historic eighth medal while sitting with his teammates Saturday night.
The media-driven "Phelps Olympics" may be over. But Phelps/Team USA has only begun to stroke.
Ian Crocker, who remains the world record-holder in the 100 fly, was very emotional after being told of Michael's decision by men's head coach Eddie Reese not long after the 100 fly medal presentation.
"I feel it’s a huge gift that is hard to accept," he said after the news. "It helps to know that Eddie Reese was not involved. It’s a decision only Michael could have made … when I saw the number 2 next to my name when I finished tonight, I fully expected that I would not be in the relay tomorrow.
I’m speechless and tearing-up, I'm so proud to swim with this great team it makes me want to go out and tear-up the pool tomorrow night."