Phelps coasts into a place in history books
OLYMPICS:IN THE end, the long man from Baltimore swam into history with such ease that he could have waited for his competitors on an air mattress, a tequila sunrise in hand.
Michael Fred Phelps II completed his inevitable ascent to the pinnacle of medal winners in Olympic history by closing out the anchor leg of the men’s 4x200 metre freestyle relay in comfort. It was like the old days: a gold medal won with minimal effort.
His three team-mates had built such an assailable lead that Phelps’s leg was little more than a procession. Even with Yannick Agnel, the French speed merchant chasing him down from lane five, Phelps could have stopped to open the champagne and still have won.
There was bedlam in the arena anyway as the crowded house greeted the sight of sporting history forming before their eyes. Larisa Latynina won 18 medals by the time of her last Olympics competing for Russia in gymnastics in 1964. Latynina is 77 years old now and had wowed to be in the crowd to watch the young American step past her in the record books.
Their names will be linked in the decades ahead but their lives could hardly have been more different. Latynina grew up in Stalinist Russia and her Olympic achievements ultimately reflected the glories of the Motherland.
Phelps will continue to earn millions in retirement now that that he has officially become the most decorated Olympian of all time. He has earned it through uncanny natural talent and as he swam those closing strokes, his team -mates celebrated more extravagantly than he did.
“In the huddle, I thanked them for helping me get to this moment,” he beamed afterwards, pausing for a few seconds before rushing on to receive the garlands and the 15th gold medal of his career.
“I told them: you better give me a biiiigggg lead going into this last leg! And they gave it to me. So I just wanted to hold on and and I thank them. Yeah, it has been a pretty amazing career but we still got a couple of races left.”
He earned medal No 18 by himself. Shortly before eight o’clock, Phelps equalled Latynina’s record in the 200 metre butterfly final. That spellbinding race was further proof of how the attitude towards Phelps has completely changed from four years ago.
Then, he was a specimen of wonder and turned his finals into races against his own best times as much as with the swimmers sharing the pool with him.
At his best, he chewed up old records and times and achieved what people believed to be impossible.
Last night, the slouching gait and slacked-jawed entrance were as familiar as ever, but now, the crowd were willing Phelps on. The roar as he turned for the final 50 metres of a ’fly race he had led for the first 150 metres evoked another British institution: Cheltenham on those Gold Cup Fridays when a beloved but fading thoroughbred is pushing hard on the home straight.