Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in one Olympics. Mark Spitz won seven in the 1972 Olympics. Johnny Weissmuller won four in the 1928 Olympics. All in swimming. So multiple gold medals is not unheard of. But it is certainly unusual. Why is this so?
This writer has been digesting the news of the Phelps triumph. We watched all of the races and have listened to all of the commentary. The reports are that if we were to genetically engineer a swimmer – he would look like Michael Phelps.
At six foot four inches, Phelps has the legs of a man of six foot and the torso of a man of six foot eight. The short legs give him power as he makes the turns, kicking off the wall with great force. He is double jointed in his elbows and shoulders. This allows a larger range of motion in his swim stroke. His hands are as big as dinner platters and scoop massive quantities of water with each stroke.
But all athletes have physical attributes that lend quality to their performance. The determining factors with athletic success in the world of 2008 are at least two-fold. Physical ability is a given. The other factor is the work ethic. This is true in all high level performance. There are 11,000 athletes who have competed in the 2008 Summer Olympics – each of them must have God give talent and a quality work ethic – But again, something sets Phelps apart.
This writer does not know the answer to his success. In fact, the real difficulty every sports writer and television commentator has had is in qualifying exactly how tremendous Phelps accomplishment is.
Football season is upon us so it is appropriate to use a football analogy. Michael Phelps competed in eight events. Each of these events are populated by very gifted, talented, hard working, athletes who specialize in that one event. Michael Phelps has won a position in the Pro Bowl in eight different positions. Try to imagine any one professional football player who could be the best in eight different positions on his team.
That is the magnitude of Michael Phelps achievement.