American swimmer Michael Phelps entered the 2012 Olympic Games as the best swimmer on the planet. On Tuesday, Phelps became the all-time Olympic medal leader with 19. But when the Games come to a close, the heavily decorated swimmer may leave London with a slightly sour taste in his mouth.
Phelps’ 2008 performance in Beijing was historically dominant.
He set the record for most gold medals in a single Olympics; finishing first in all eight events he competed in. Upon his return to America, Phelps skyrocketed to superstar status after achieving Olympic swimming immortality.
In the weeks leading up to the London games, swimming fans speculated that Phelps would not enjoy the same dominance he experienced in Beijing. Instead, up-and-coming American swimmer Ryan Lochte would usurp Phelps as the world’s greatest swimmer.
While Lochte hasn’t quite lived up to all the hype, he has shaken things up a bit in the swimming world. He took gold in the 400-meter individual medley—a race in which Phelps failed to medal—but followed it up with a disappointing fourth place finish in the 200-meter freestyle.
So far, Phelps’ only gold medal of the London Olympics came as a teammate of Lochte’s in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay, which just happened to be the race that gave Phelps the all-time medal lead. He also won silver with Lochte as a teammate in the 4x100-meter freestyle relay.
Perhaps the most telltale sign that Phelps is not the same swimmer we saw in Beijing was his performance in the 200-meter butterfly. He won the event in the past two Olympic games and was trying to become the first male athlete to win an individual event in three straight games, but South African swimmer Chad Le Clos edged him out by .05 of a second this time around.
Phelps’ 1:53.01 time in that race was almost a full second slower than his record-setting 200-meter butterfly performance from 2008. In fact, had he swam that time in the Beijing Olympics, Phelps would not have even earned a medal in that race.
If it were anybody else, Phelps’ accomplishments in London would be impressive.
But after earning gold in all eight races he competed in last Olympics, the expectations for Phelps heading into London were sky high.
Many people wanted to see Phelps continue the supremacy he displayed in Beijing, but no one can stay on top of the swimming world forever.
Luckily for Phelps, he still has a few more races in front of him.
He has taken the time to celebrate his new record and reflect on what he’s been able to accomplish during his lifetime. But he has not lost his focus on the immediate future. Phelps told the Associated Press, “It has been a pretty amazing career but we still have a few more races to go.”
Knowing how competitive Phelps can be and how hard he trains, he will undoubtedly give these last few races his all. But if he is unable to pull out at least one or two more gold medals, many will view his efforts in London as a disappointment.
While every athlete dreams of going out on top, Phelps should not get down on himself for his performance in this year’s Olympic games. When all is said and done, Phelps will still hold the most prestigious Olympic record and will forever be remembered for his unmatched performance—even if he is no longer the most dominant athlete in the pool.