Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Olympian

Just one day after taking my hat off to the Australian swimmer Hayden Stoeckel for overcoming his fear of pain and talking to journalists, it seems appropriate to glory, laud and honour Michael Phelps. The one time youngster with attention deficit disorder has metamorphosed into a concentrated champion.

Number four and five came on Wednesday. Not talking about buses here but Phelps’s gold medals tally.

Sitting in the commentary positions I was looking down on the chap in lane four of the 200 metres butterfly final and was thinking he’s not mashing up the opposition in the way that he usually does.

The 23 year old from Baltimore won nevertheless in a world record time of 1:52.03. It was the third world record we’d seen that morning.

The first was set in the first semi-final of the 100 metres freestyle by the Frenchman Alain Bernard. He’d seen his mark eclipsed by the Australian glamour boy Eamon Holmes on Monday in the 4x100m freestyle relay final.

And then to top it all…Bernard was passed in the final centimetres by the American Jason Lezak who claimed gold. Ouch. Stripped and fleeced.

So Bernard’s fist pumping on Wednesday after posting 47.20 seconds was a way of marking out his terrain.

So when Holmes lined up for the second semi-final? Me? I ducked to avoid the wave of testosterone.

Holmes has suspended his much publicised relationship with fellow Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice to concentrate on his aquatic actions.

The beau dived in and 47.05 seconds later he’d taken back the world record. Cue some ripper, good on yer mate fist pumping.

When Bernard and Holmes rejoin the beefcake stakes on Thursday morning, I’m taking a bucket along so I can later bottle the pheromones from that splash of cultures.

Consequently Phelps’s fourth gold of the games and his rise to the pinnacle of a hallowed elite was all the more impressive and graceful.

I’m sure Phelps is good for a few gallons of adrenalin and he acquired number four, it would seem, against the odds.

Athletes, as we realise all too well, are machines. Once they start their journey “into the moment” (Rice’s phrase), anything which is not preordained can unleash the most fearsome meltdowns.

Jessica Schipper had a suit malfunction just before the final of the 100 metres butterfly final on Monday. Her Australian teammate, Libby Trickett, helped to calm her down.

Trickett who won the gold spoke of Schipper’s resilience to return from the netherlands of disaster and swim into third place.

“We’ve all been there,” bemoaned Trickett.

Phelps revealed on Wednesday that his goggles were full of water during the final stages of the butterfly final. “I couldn’t see, he said. “I was trying to make out the ‘T’ on the bottom to try and judge my turn and my finish but I was more or less just trying to count strokes because I know how many strokes I take per fifty and I was hoping to be dead on so I could hit the walls perfectly.”

Ah perfection. That old chestnut.

Phelps added. “I was able to get my hand on the wall first and it was a best time but I think I was just disappointed because I know I can go faster than that.”

It was a world record.

Now that’s top posturing.