Michael Phelps: Will his Olympic medal records ever be broken?
Sure, everyone loves a bit of Michael Phelps hyperbole, but it is almost inconceivable that his Olympic career gold and total-medal marks could be broken in any foreseeable future.
In the end, what did Michael Phelps not do?Skip to next paragraph
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When he finished his last competitive lap Saturday, for the gold-medal winning American 4x100 medley relay, his professional to-do must have had a whole lot of check marks.
More than any other athlete at these Games, perhaps, he has “inspired a generation” – as the London Olympic motto goes. In fact, they were in the pool with him.
When 15-year-old American Katie Ledecky won the 800-meter freestyle Friday, the first memory that she recounted was of meeting Michael Phelps and how much it meant to her that before her race, he wished her good luck.
When 20-year-old South African Chad le Clos beat Mr. Phelps by 0.01 seconds in the 200-meter butterfly on Tuesday, he said: “Phelps is my hero, and I love the guy…. You don’t understand what this means to me. This is the greatest moment of my life.”
He has changed perceptions of the possible and laid a marker for the enormous work needed to achieve the extraordinary. He pushed Ryan Lochte to flip tires and pull chains in order to beat him. He inspired Missy Franklin to swim in more Olympic events in London than any other American women had before.
He has had his races shown on the Jumbotron during a National Football League game (during Beijing). And over the past three Olympics, he has helped swimming eclipse track and field as the “it” American sport at the Summer Games.
In short, he has done precisely what he said he intended to do: He has profoundly changed the trajectory of the sport he loves.
The other legacy: records
But his most long-lived legacy might be on the record books themselves.
America’s fickle Olympic interests could – and almost certainly will – shift again with the rise of new athletes in different sports. But until the Olympics change in some unforeseen way, the records he established might never be broken.
To a baseball fan, the number 56 is shorthand for the unbelievable and unbreakable. It is the number of consecutive games in which New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio had a hit. Since he did it 1941, no one has broken it. No one has really come close.
Now, it appears, the Olympics have their DiMaggio – three times over.
Amazingly, Phelps’s record of eight gold medals in a single Olympics could be the most “vulnerable,” for lack of a better word. Because of the Lochtes and Franklins he has inspired, it is possible someone could at least tie his eight gold medals, though London has only underscored how enormously difficult that would be.