Olympics 2008 » Column
Pool shark

I first saw Michael Phelps at the 2004 US Olympic swimming trials in Long Beach. I was impressed with his long torso, which gave him great strength, and his excellent technique, which kept him low and streamlined in the water.

Everybody knew he was aiming for my record of seven Olympic golds in the pool and I was impressed with the way he carried himself in Athens in the face of all the distractions and expectations that come with the Olympic Games.

He was attempting an assault on a long-standing record and carried the burden of the reputation, of being the “next” Mark Spitz. All through, he demonstrated focus, confidence and mental toughness.

Four years later in Beijing, he will try again. This may surprise you but I actually thought my record—seven golds in a single Olympics—would be broken much sooner. This record is about packing seven or eight events into an eight-day period and beating everyone to the wall in each of them.

It is a mental and physical hurdle that only a few have been able to challenge. Matt Biondi and Phelps are the two who have had the best chance.

Sixteen years after I did it, Biondi had a shot in Seoul Olympics in 1988 and came up short, winning five golds. Then, 16 years later, Phelps couldn’t quite nail it in Athens. Maybe there’s something in the number 16, which jinxed Michael’s chances, though I don’t think so.

I believe in Beijing, Phelps has even a stronger chance of breaking my record because he now holds an additional record in the 200m freestyle. My timings have been broken often since then. This record is not about the increasing speeds or sophistication of training technique or equipment.

In the end, all athletes train similarly and receive the most current knowledge and equipment which science has to offer them.

The playing field is even from generation to generation. Phelps vs The Record has become the biggest media event in Olympic history since I competed.

There is pressure from media and balancing time to train with media requests will complicate the effort. All this is as much a part of what he must do as well make sure that his swimming is perfect.

Phelps is once again aiming for eight golds for the second time. Plus this is an eight-day race programme for him, and not for his opponents. Everything needs to go perfectly for him over eight days.

Just as my experience in Mexico City in 1968 prepared me for Munich in 1972, Michael’s efforts in Athens have prepared him for Beijing. The good thing is that he won’t be surprised by any of it.

He knows what he is up against because he has faced it before. He knows what’s involved now and with more mental and physical maturity and his great athleticism, I think he is well-prepared to win all events.

I have often been asked what would my advice to him is. Once he starts practicing with his new teammates for the first time, he must remember that these are the guys he will need to beat in order to win.

To do this, he must set the tone in practice by letting them know that they cannot beat him. In 1968, one of my teammates knew that he could beat me, and he did.

I took the silver and learned a valuable lesson. Phelps’s biggest competition is Ryan Lochte, both in 400m and 200m individual medley. Lochte challenged Phelps in qualifying and will be better rested in the Games by virtue of having fewer events to compete. Phelps needs to establish his dominance in practice itself so that Lochte doesn’t think he can beat him.

On the eve of the games, I would just ask him to focus only on each day’s events. He should not look too far ahead. He must win on the first day to set the pace. His last individual event, on the seventh day of competition, is the 100m butterfly, where he needs to beat world-record holder Ian Crocker.

He has a lot of work on that day, including producing his best times in the three relays, so that he and his teammates have a chance to win gold. He has to swim the fastest individual times in the relays to keep the US ahead and in the running for the top spot.

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The Beijing Games has spawned two conflicting isms: Phelpsism vs Boltism.
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The Great Wail of China
Overhead smash
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Medals Tally (Beijing 2008)
Country G S B T
1. China 51 21 28 100
2. USA 36 38 36 110
3. Russia 23 21 28 72
4. Britain 19 13 15 47
5. Germany 16 10 15 41
6. Australia 14 15 17 46
7. S Korea 13 10 8 31
8. Japan 9 6 10 25
9. Italy 8 10 10 28
10. France 7 16 17 40
50. India 1 0 2 3
View complete tally »
Medals Tally ( Athens 2004)
We are proud of Abhinav Bindra, Sushil Kumar and Bijender Kumar. Congratulations to all of them. I hope now the corporate world and media in the country will concentrate more on games other than cricket.
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