Olympic Swimming 2012: Why Sport's Popularity Will Suffer Without Michael Phelps

Steven Cook@@stevencookinFeatured Columnist IVAugust 5, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04:  Michael Phelps of the United States leaves the pool after competing in the Men's 4x100m Medley Relay Final on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre on August 4, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The sports world saw a captivating sight Saturday at the 2012 London Olympics, as the greatest Olympian ever in Michael Phelps competed in the Games for the very last time.

And with many experts saying that we may never see this sort of dominance ever again, it makes you wonder whether swimming will ever be this popular in America again.

Saying that swimming is one of the most prominent sports in the U.S. is obviously not true on the premise of overall watchability, but it's never seen better days than right now.

Swimming is at the core of the sports world right now. They're talking about it on ESPN almost as much as they're talking about the New York Jets quarterback situation, which is saying something. And with an American competitor shattering record after record on the world's most historic sports stage, it should be.

National media in the U.S. tends to gravitate toward one or two core events when the Olympics come around, and swimming primarily isn't one of them. But after NBC slotted their prime-time coverage with swimming on virtually every night for the first week of the Games, it was obvious what sport was at the forefront.

Phelps broke the all-time gold-medal record at just 23 years old in Beijing, and easily broke the overall medals total earlier this week in London. The crazy thing is that if he wanted to, he could stick around for four more years and probably win a couple more gold medals.

The American inspired a generation and is the one and only face of the sport. He's like if Michael Jordan played his entire career in college—that's how much he dominated. 

There's no doubt that the sport's popularity will suffer when Phelps isn't in the pool in the 2016 Olympic Games. In fact, swimming may never be on a pedestal like this ever again.

If Phelps never came around, the possibilities for the sport would be finite, and its exposure would be minimal. Instead, more young Americans than ever are swimming, and most of them probably believe they can break Phelps' new records. 

It's hilarious to think of someone retiring at the age of 27. But with the impact that Michael Phelps has had not only on his competition and his sport but also on his generation, he's done more for the world than many of us can even aspire to do. 


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