Tahlequah Daily Press

Get the scoop!

August 1, 2012

Phelps sets a new pinnacle, with Mom always nearby

LONDON — The race had been over for nearly an hour, the medal ceremony long finished. The four American swimmers smiled their telegenic grins and held their gold between their thumbs and forefingers for the cameras. But Michael Phelps wasn't done. He still had a ritual to attend to, the one that began as a 7-year-old at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club: Find Mom.

"I love you so much," Debbie Phelps said, as she and her only son began crying together.

Michael Phelps had his 19th Olympic medal, more than any athlete has ever won.

Forty-eight years ago in Tokyo, a Soviet gymnast named Larisa Latynina won the last of her 18 medals. Phelps had equaled Latynina's record earlier Tuesday with a disappointing silver in the 200-meter butterfly, his signature event. But shortly after 9 p.m. London time, before a shrieking sellout of 19,000 at the Aquatics Centre, Phelps and three teammates aimed to add to his collection.

Given a four-length lead by Ryan Lochte, Conor Dwyer and Ricky Berens, Phelps swam an anchor leg of the 4x200 relay that became more of a coronation than a competition for his first gold of these Olympics.

"I think the biggest thing I always said was, anything is possible," Phelps said nearly 90 minutes after the record. "I put my mind on doing something no one has ever done before, and nothing was going to stand in my way."

Phelps stood atop a medal podium for the 15th time with the Star-Spangled Banner playing, as he had eight times in Beijing and six times in Athens (where he also won two bronze). But this time meant more, he said. He told his teammates he couldn't just mouth the words and smile through it like he usually does.

"Sorry, boys, I'm not going to be singing it with you tonight," Phelps said he told Lochte, Dwyer and Berens. "My eyes were getting watery. It was emotional."

One of the most poignant tributes to Phelps's legacy came earlier in the evening form the man who had ended his decade of dominance in the 200 butterfly. South Africa's Chad le Clos, who just out-touched Phelps at the wall, spent most of his news conference talking about the thrill of beating the man he had idolized since being a sixth-grader watching Phelps perform in Athens.

"Sounds crazy, but I thought I was Michael that last turn," le Clos said. "He's everything to swimming. I can't believe what just happened."

This is Phelps's legacy: He has so inspired 12-year-old kids that they've now grown up to beat him.

Beyond the 19 medals, beyond the sustained ability to win, the greatest Olympic champion ever deserves commendation for something else: showing up here, knowing he could not possibly duplicate the indomitable performance of four years ago.

Phelps knew this wasn't going to be Beijing. But he still felt secure enough about his accomplishments to risk the legend of the swimmer who seemingly would not lose.

He has been beaten twice in individual races, including a fourth place in the 400 individual medley on Saturday, but don't characterize him as the fallible champion who just can't keep up the young bucks anymore. Rather, celebrate an athletic hero unafraid to show his vulnerability, because he knows all he can possibly give is his best. Finally, Phelps seems of this earth, more man than myth.

And if that doesn't amount to gold every time he steps in the pool at age 27, oh well. He still competed like hell. Isn't that what Pierre de Coubertin, the modern founder of the Games, said the Olympics was supposed to be about?

"I've been a human being for a while," he said Tuesday night as the media room busted up in laughter.

After his loss to le Clos, Phelps found solace in the relay, turning and firing off the wall that last 50 meters, heading for home. And history.

And Mom.

Debbie Phelps had what she calls a "D.P. moment" then, tears streaming down her cheeks. Surrounding her were grown daughters Hilary and Whitney; all of Michael's closest friends, from elementary school through the University of Michigan; his 6-year-old niece, Taylor, the little girl who was so proud of her first basketball award she had to show Michael.

"He was doing an Anderson Cooper interview and photo shoot," Hilary said, "and he had all his medals out [around his neck], and Taylor came in and said, 'Uncle Michael, look a my medal.' She was so proud, turning it in the light and everything. And Michael turned around and said, 'Hey Taylor, look at mine.' "

"He's been doing this for 12 years. We're so happy for him."

The training got old, the monotony of the black line at the bottom of the pool - the things that helped him focus and deal with his diagnosis of ADHD became rote, tired. Lochte was going to be the new king. Even a teammate, Tyler Clary, gave him grief about his work ethic leading up to London. But Phelps found a way to remain contemporary, still be great even as his body incrementally retreated.

When Phelps's contributions to swimming are totaled, those 19 medals amount to untold millions, ala Tiger Woods's impact on golf. The sport that used to have Philips 66 as its main sponsor now lures the world's largest corporations. I still remember Cindy Crawford walking out with a 19-year-old Phelps in Long Beach, Calif., before Athens, hocking designer watches, thinking, "This kid's talent brought her out here to be part of this."

That Baltimore teen became the greatest Olympic champion Tuesday night in London, still finding his mother in the stands like he did when he was 7.

"Simple words, but direct from the heart," Debbie said, crying again, explaining why she told her son she loves him and she's proud of him. Michael Phelps's mom paused and wiped her eyes. "You never know what your children are going to grow up to become."

 

1
Text Only
Get the scoop!
  • Smartphone kill switches are coming

    Smartphones need kill switches. It's a relatively easy solution to the pricey (and irritating) problem of smartphone theft. But who would have thought that the big carriers would team up with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung and lots of other manufacturers to voluntarily begin adding the technology by July 2015? The cooperative spirit! It makes so much sense!

    April 18, 2014

  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 18, 2014

  • Biggest student loan profits come from grad students

    This week, the Congressional Budget Office projected that the federal government would earn roughly $127 billion from student lending during the next 10 years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Golf turns into snooze-fest without celebrities like Tiger and Phil

    The Masters lumbered on last week without two of pro golf's biggest names, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, and fans changed the channel. The PGA needs someone with star power if it's going to lure people back to the game.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 18, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Warren's populist pitch on student loans is off key

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren's populist rhetoric pumps up students about their loan burdens, but she conveniently neglects to mention the real problem - the exorbitant cost of college - much less how she's benefitted from those high prices.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 18, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 16, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • E-Cigarettes target youth with festivals, lawmakers say

    The findings, in a survey released Monday by members of Congress, should prod U.S. regulators to curb the industry, the lawmakers said. While e-cigarettes currently are unregulated, the Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan that would extend its tobacco oversight to the products.

    April 14, 2014

Poll

What to you think of a state Legislature proposal to forbid cities from raising the minimum wage? Choose the closest to your opinion.

The federal government should set the minimum wage across the board.
States should be allowed to raise their minimum wages, but not cities.
Both states and cities should be allowed to raise their minimum wages.
Cities should be allowed to raise their mimum wages, but not states.
There should be no minimum wage at all.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Raw: Greeks Celebrate Easter With "Rocket War" Police Question Captain, Crew on Ferry Disaster Raw: Orthodox Christians Observe Easter Rite Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Four French Journalists Freed From Syria Raw: Massive 7.2 Earthquake Rocks Mexico Captain of Sunken SKorean Ferry Arrested Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Pope Presides Over Good Friday Mass Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Superheroes Descend on Capitol Mall Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Anti-semitic Leaflets Posted in Eastern Ukraine Raw: Magnitude-7.2 Earthquake Shakes Mexico City Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Raw: Faithful Celebrate Good Friday Worldwide Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest
Stocks