Michael Phelps: Riding The Wave Then, Drowning in Sorrow Now

Tom BurkeCorrespondent IJuly 29, 2009

ROME - JULY 29:  Michael Phelps of the United States celebrates after breaking the world record, setting a new time of 1:51.51 seconds in the Men's 200m Butterfly Final during the 13th FINA World Championships at the Stadio del Nuoto on July 29, 2009 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Waaa Waaa Waaa—What a difference a year makes. 


By now everyone has come to grips with Michael Phelps’s somewhat surprising loss in the 200-meter freestyle to an up-and-comer German, Paul Biedermann, at the Swimming Worlds in Rome.


The lesser-ranked Biedermann, in a higher-rated speedsuit, the Arena X-Glide, crested to a world record, leaving the Speedo LZR-wearing Phelps struggling in the backwash.


Post-race, the emotions ran the gamut. Although ecstatic about his performance, the Deutschman lamented, “I’m a little bit angry. It’s all about the suits. It’s not about the swimmer.”


The dejected and irritated Phelps, who was coaxed to stick around after the race for interviews, said, “It’s not swimming. Technology has changed the sport completely. I’m looking forward to the day we can call our sport swimming again.”


Now rewind to last year when these ultrasonic, super-buoyant suits splashed into the limelight. Phelps was the poster boy for all the elite on “Team Speedo.” At that time, Speedo was in the forefront of technology, and the lucky few who signed with this company rocked at the Beijing Games. Phelps and Speedo rode the eight-gold-medal wave all the way to the bank.


At a USOC sponsored Summer Olympic Media Summit in April 2008, Phelps was questioned about the advantage he enjoys over his competitors. Then, he matter-of-factly stated that FINA (swimming’s international governing body) approved this technology and that other swimmers were welcome to sign-up with Speedo as well. Many wondered how could this be fair, and how could he be so pompous?


His arrogance has certainly drained since then. Now that the outdated Speedo LZR suit (circa 2008) has been lapped by other manufactured shells, Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman, are now ticked. Frustrated at the disadvantage Phelps now faces and FINA’s reluctance to soon address the disparity, Bowman said, “The sport is in shambles right now and they’re going to lose the guy who fills the seats. That would be my recommendation to him, not to swim internationally.”


The ever-acquiescent Phelps, abiding by his mentor’s guidance, said, “Bob chooses the meets I swim in. That’s his decision.”


What goes around, comes around.