Column by Nathan Jendrick
SEATTLE, Washington, July 10. IN 2008, Michael Phelps made history. As if taking down eight gold medals wasn't enough, the world was able to embrace a little feud that started in the form of Michael Cavic, the extraordinary butterfly swimmer who felt–and told the world–that he would be the ruin of the Phelps parade. As it turns out, Phelps maintained his dominance and took the gold. But the story was great.
This time around, we have the Phelps/Lochte montage, but unfortunately, that one is largely media-created. Both Michael and Ryan choose their words carefully, respect one another, and while articulate and confident in expressing their goals, they still come off gracious. So, unfortunately, it seems we are going to be out that marquee face-off as Cavic has had some set-backs that make it unlikely he'll challenge Phelps for a gold.
Well, so we thought. Enter stage right: Tyler Clary.
In a piece by Jim Alexander for the Press-Enterprise, published July 9, Clary makes it clear he is by no means afraid of Phelps and he's certain he outworks him. Don't take my word for it—I don't care to play in the media posturing of building up a rivalry that doesn't exist (instead I'll just enjoy the real ones)–he said it himself.
Clary is quoted as saying of Phelps, “I saw a real lack of preparation,” and “..the fact that I know I work harder than he does makes me appreciate… every little gain I make.”
He went on to say of Phelps' time in Michigan, “.. he was a swimmer that didn't want to be there… I saw somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the crescendo; that is the quote we'll all be thinking of when these two titans of the pool step on the blocks in London to face off in the 200-meter butterfly.
The only issue I see here is that Phelps has a knack for stepping up to new heights when others put him down. It's true that Michael has admitted to experiencing a lull and not taking the sport as serious as he had in the past, but the fact is that from a physiological perspective, it probably actually did him some good. The body isn't made to take the physical beating that swimmers put it through day after day after day, and Michael is a guy who was proud of the fact that for years he never missed a workout. After what he did in Beijing, the best training he likely could have actually done was exactly what he did for awhile: Nothing.
I think there's a large misconception that athletes must prepare for a decade with unending, hardcore training to have a shot at the Big Show and Olympic glory. But for athletes who have done that and previously reached the elite level, it isn't the case. Dara Torres took a couple of periods of time off and came back to beat most of her competition; Anthony Ervin did the same. There is such a thing as working smarter, not harder, and Phelps may have done everything he needed to do on the rest front while picking the pace back up just in time to reign once more on the Olympic throne. Sometimes, people underestimate their competition, and we're going to find out in a couple of short weeks if that's the case with Tyler Clary.
In Clary's perspective, Phelps is a natural talent who didn't reach his full potential because he didn't work hard. Again, I'm not making this up. In reference to Phelps and his record haul in Beijing, Clary was quoted as saying, “The fact that he doesn't have to work as hard to get that done, it's a real shame… I think the things he could have done if he'd worked as hard as I do would have been even more incredible…”
Personally, I think Phelps worked as hard as he possibly could have for everything he achieved in China, and I'm astonished that someone would question his work ethic to do what he did.
But I like it. Because this is a story now. This is throwing some spice on a 200-meter butterfly that everyone but Tyler Clary thought was a foregone conclusion to be won by Michael Phelps.
Indeed, Phelps has been beaten. The name Ryan Lochte comes to mind, of course. But at the Olympic Trials, Phelps beat Clary twice. Still, Clary thinks his time is coming.
“…when I finally beat him,” he told Alexander, it's “going to be a huge deal in my mind, because it would be complete satisfaction.”
On the website of the Press-Telegram, Alexander made a separate post on July 10 that Clary had in some way come out saying his comments were “twisted,” though Alexander states clearly he has the interview on tape and quoted Clary properly.
Personally, although I'd have never said what he did (in part, no doubt, because I've never been among the best at any sport), I like a little controversy as a swim fan. And now, I'll actually watch the 200-meter butterfly to see what happens.