Indisputable: Michael Phelps Is THE Sportsman of 2008

Joe HuberCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2009

Too bad Tiger Woods, winning a major on a hobbled knee wasn’t enough.  Feeling for you Francisco Rodriguez, setting the record for saves in a single season didn’t do it.  I’m chapped for you Chad Pennington, turning the Dolphins from worst to first wasn’t the most incredible thing in 2008.  It was the creature from the Baltimore lagoon, Michael Phelps.

So what if the nickname isn’t catchy, I'm talking about Michael Phelps here!  Phelps not only set a record that many people thought would never be broken, but he did it in a sport where you only get a shot at said record every four years.  If that wasn't enough, he did it taking on the competition of not just a single nation, but the best athletes in the world.  

Oh yeah, there was the pressure of representing his entire country too.

Phelps didn't win all these medals alone, and here is a great story making a case for his teammate Jason Lezak, but let's be realistic here.  Phelps turned millions of people to the TV to watch swimming.  There will be swimmers that will argue swimming and diving are "AWESOME televised events", but there is a reason you don't go to the local pool and just watch people swim.  It's just not that interesting.

That was of course before Phelps hit the water a little more than four years ago.

Phelps didn't just make cheering for the U.S.A. exciting, he made the entire sport exciting.  Phelps didn't make you just watch the events, he made you pay attention.

So many people will be upset with whatever athlete you choose, but you have to understand that this was a down year for many athletes, and such an up year for Phelps. Even if the other athletes had great years, Phelps broke nine records at the Olympics. Just looking at the other athletes 2008 makes it even more clear that he deserves it like nobody else.

Woods gets year after year, event after event, and Sunday after Sunday to awe you. Phelps has less than a month every four years.  He even had more wins than Tiger in 2008.

Rodriguez plays in the sport that plays the largest amount of games with major records seemingly falling every year.  Phelps broke a record widely considered untouchable in his second shot at the Olympics.  K-Rod also needs help to get to those records while Phelps won five medals alone.

Chad Pennington plays in a league of parity, where any team can rise to greatness or fall into obscurity in a seasons time.  Phelps has three, maybe four total times he can actually stay competitive in Olympic events.  Pennington will get to play four seasons in what will essentially be one Olympic season for Phelps.

I don't want to seem like I'm putting down the other athletes, I just want to give Phelps his due.  I don't care how many times we see his big goofy smile at Disney world, you can't pay homage enough to the accomplishments he made in 2008.

Phelps not only won his eight golds in Beijing, he or his team broke the world record in every single event except the 100m Butterfly, he only set an Olympic record there.  Far less impressive...Still better than the one I never set, so I guess I'll feign awe.

I don't think you can stress enough that he only has once every four years to make a real mark in his sport.  World Championships are great, but the Olympics are really all that matters to the world as far as swimming goes.

The mere fact that Phelps jumped into the water cube in China and flailed his awkwardly long arms and legs to the most impressive Olympic games by a single athlete ever was amazing.  Even though 2009 is here, Phelps' efforts were more than great enough to earn him the distinction of 2008's Sportsmen of the Year.