In the 2008 Summer Olympics Michael Phelps won an unbelievable eight gold medals. Even more incredible than the eight golds? He only competed in eight events.
In other words, Phelps was perfect at the 2008 summer games. Not only had Beijing not seen anything like it, neither had any other host venue in the Olympics' storied history.
Phelps was the first athlete to win eight medals in a single Olympics, in any sport.
And as much press and fanfare as Phelps got in 2008, hindsight would seem to indicate he didn't get the acclaim he deserved.
The dude did something no one has ever done before, and something that may never be done again.
Just let that soak in for half a second. That is all the time that should be needed to recognize Phelps cemented his legacy as the best swimmer ever in 2008.
With 14 gold medals and 16 total in two career Olympics performances, Phelps' pedigree extends far beyond that of any other swimmer who has ever lived.
With that title securely wrapped in a trophy case in Baltimore, or in the minds of each person who watched any of Phelps' record-breaking performances, Phelps is free to do whatever the heck he wants in this year's games.
In the 2012 Games in London, that means Phelps will race in just seven events. On July 2 he and his coach, Bob Bowman, announced he would skip the 200M freestyle, despite qualifying for the event.
Upon the announcement Phelps explained the decision. "It's so much smarter for me to do that. We're not trying to recreate what happened in Beijing. It just makes more sense," he said.
The decision was also made in part because for the first time in practically forever, the U.S. team is not the favorite to take home the gold in the 400 freestyle relay. Phelps admitted as much. "The 400 free relay is going to be harder than it was last time."
But most of all, Phelps is concerned about the whole of his workload. He wants to remain fresh in each race and not feel tired or worry about having to pace himself. Referring to his seven-race workload, Phelps uttered these words: "It's a lot and it is going to be stressful. My body is not going to feel the same as it did after the Beijing 400IM. I was fresh and ready to go."
In other words the just-turned-27-year-old is wary of the grind the Olympics setup places upon a swimmer who competes in as many events as Phelps. In fact, Phelps promised he is going to retire as soon as his final race in London was complete. "You can put it on record," he said.
In swimming conversations, Phelps is an old man. He is barely hanging on. Trimming his swimming program was necessary to maximize Phelps' effectiveness in these games. And he is fine with that.
He still has an opportunity to do something no racer has ever done in swimming—win gold in the same event in three consecutive Olympic games. He can do that in four separate races.
Is Michael Phelps the best Olympic athlete of all-time?
The greatest swimmer ever has an opportunity in 2012 to knock that barometer so far out of the park that no one will even be able to envision taking it from him.
Thank his coach Bob Bowen for easing up his program. That is the key reason. Expect Phelps to go out a winner.
After all, he only has seven races left in his career.