Michael Phelps has an opportunity to do something no other Olympian has ever done. Big surprise, right?
With two chances at obtaining medals Tuesday, Phelps can surpass Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina as the world’s most decorated Olympian.
There’s no way he can be more impressive than Latynina in the way that she won six of her 18 medals while pregnant, but doing what no human being has ever done in the 116-year history of the modern Olympic Games is a great feat nonetheless.
When interviewed by Mike Lopresti of USA Today, Latynina said she likes Phelps, and added, “I’m quite happy there is a man in the world who can overcome my record, finally.”
She will not be in attendance when Phelps breaks her 48-year-old record, though she offered to present him with his 18th medal.
She was denied. Apparently, only committee members may hand out medals.
Phelps will swim in the finals of the 200-meter butterfly, then the finals of the 4x200 freestyle relay.
He has won gold in both events before, and if he does so in the fly he will set another world mark, becoming the first male swimmer to win three consecutive Olympic titles at one event.
His London Olympics started rough, however, finishing fourth in the 400-meter individual medley—the same one in which teammate Ryan Lochte won the gold.
Another of Phelps’ teammates, Tyler Clary, was critical of the world-record holder in early July. According to Jim Alexander of The Press-Enterprise, Clary questioned Phelps’ work ethic:
“Basically, he was a swimmer that didn’t want to be there,” Clary said of Phelps. “They can talk about all of these goals and plans and preparation they have. I saw it. I know. It’s different. And I saw somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time. […] And the day that it happens, when I finally beat him, is going to be a huge deal in my mind, because it would be complete satisfaction.”
Clary has since apologized—to Phelps and the team—but we all know Phelps will be repeating the words “asking to get beat” over and over in his mind just before the race. Motivating the world’s most decorated Olympic swimmer is fine, but there are other less public ways of doing so.
Especially since he’s set to face Phelps in the final of the 200-meter fly.
[WARNING: Official Olympic results to follow]
Michael Phelps has earned the silver medal in the 200-meter fly and now has tied Larisa Latynina for the most medals won at the Summer Olympics. Clary finished a distant fifth.
So, now he’s got No. 18 and can break the tie with a medal in the 200-meter freestyle relay.
Would a record like that be considered unbreakable?
It took nearly a half century for someone to have a real opportunity at topping 18; topping 19 seems unreachable. There are plenty of great Olympic athletes all around the world, but one can imagine how difficult it is to sustain such a high level of performance over three or more Olympic cycles.
I’d like to hear your thoughts on any current Olympians and if they have a shot at taking down Phelps’ record.
What do you think?