It’s amazing how much of a difference a week can make. Empires fall, solar systems expand, MLB playoff hopes created and then taken away.
This past week allowed for a pretty significant change as well—a complete shift in the reputation of the world’s greatest Olympian, Michael Phelps.
Following his 2008 campaign that yielded 8 gold medals, the Baltimore native lacked motivation. He admits that for about two months, he didn’t care about swimming and let go a bit, gaining around 20 pounds and losing the menacing figure that vaulted him atop the podium so many times before.
It was this same mentality that would produce a candid photo of Phelps using a bong in January of 2009 and lead the public to question even more if this “champion,” who was never a very charismatic interviewer and now dabbled in casually “testing his swimming lungs,” was really worthy of all the hero worship.
To add insult to brain cell injury, Ryan Lochte, a former standout at the University of Florida who won two gold and two bronze medals in Beijing, was now stealing Phelps’s thunder in the swimming world.
The reason for Phelps’s imminent dethroning was work ethic—while Phelps was being called out as a slacker by friends, family and even long-time coach Bob Bowman, the public was becoming giddy watching YouTube videos of Ryan Lochte flipping massive truck tires and swimming against the resistance of giant bungee cords.
In the summer of 2011, the theory proved to be correct, as Lochte won five golds at the World Championships in Shanghai to Phelps’s four, but more impressively defeated him in the 200 individual medley, a race which Phelps simply didn’t lose in his performances as a more fit swimmer.
Reputations once again held as the lights turned on in London and the 400 individual medley ended with Lochte atop the podium, and an “unprepared, out of shape” Phelps in a pressroom trying to explain how fourth was even possible.
Then things started to change.
On Sunday night, Lochte was handed a body-length lead over France’s Yannick Agnel in the 4X100 freestyle relay but couldn’t convert, earning his team a silver medal. Lochte was visibly upset following the race and his confidence would never recover.
Monday brought Phelps’s first loss in the 200-meter butterfly in over a decade, but silver was certainly better than Lochte’s failure to medal in a loaded 200-meter freestyle final.
On Thursday, Phelps erased all the speculation of his fall from grace, beating Lochte in a highly publicized 200-meter individual medley final.
The greatest Olympian who ever lived would end his Olympics with four gold medals and two silver medals to bring his career total to 22; many speculate this medal record will never be broken.
Lochte finished with two gold medals (one individual), two silvers and a bronze—hardly the Olympic resume of a man who accepted praise as Michael Phelps’s successor.
Retiring after his final swim, it was amazing to see some of the personal transformations Phelps has made.
Humble, relaxed and nostalgic were three words we never thought we’d use to describe him in interviews, but sure enough, Phelps articulately told Andrea Kremer of NBC how excited he was just to be competing and that he was thrilled he was going to be able to pass the torch of Olympic greatness onto such a talented group of young American swimmers.
Public perception of Lochte, on the other hand, has worsened over the last week; failing to make good on Phelpsian promises, sporting a $25,000 patriotic grill and frequently maintaining close encounters of an un-bloggable kind in the Olympic Village were all reports of Lochte that made us realize just how unique the redefined Michael Phelps is.
After the huge transformation this week has allowed us to witness, it’s only fitting that 2016 will find Phelps retired with his same Olympic record, while the promiscuous Lochte will once again be pursuing Olympic greatness in the lively city of Rio de Janeiro…cough.