That day, Phelps swam the fasted 100-meter butterfly in the history of the 4Ã—100 medley race. He swam past the Japanese and Australian swimmers like they had anchors attached to their Speedos. He turned a half-second deficit into a full-second lead by the time he touched the wall, which ought to be a physical and mathematical impossibility. It was as magnificent a call to excellence as you ever will see, custom-built for the Olympics.
And even that wasnâ€™t the best part.
The best part happened next, after Phelps climbed out of the pool as he joined two other members of that relay â€” Brendan Hansen and Aaron Piersol â€” on the poolâ€™s deck and started cheering madly, rabidly, for Jason Lezak, finishing off the 100-meter freestyle portion of the race. This was an especially relevant moment for a couple of reasons.
Earlier in the meet, it was Lezak who had heroically kept alive Phelpsâ€™ quest to win eight gold medals when, in the anchor leg of the 4Ã—100 relay, he had overcome Frenchman Alain Bernard â€” who had a half-body-length lead â€” and wound up beating him by eight-hundredths of a second. At the time, it seemed impossible that any race in any sport could be decided by that â€” by 0.008.
Except Phelps had won his seventh gold medal by 0.001, somehow getting his fingernail to the wall ahead of U.S.-born Serbian Milorad Cavic. Phelps would talk about how Lezak had inspired him, had proven, again, that as long as the wall beckons itâ€™s there for you. There were protests aplenty after that race, but it was Cavic, in a stunning display of sportsmanship, who had put the matter to rest on his blog.
â€œPeople,â€ he wrote, â€œthis is the greatest moment of my life. If you ask me, it should be accepted and we should move on. Iâ€™ve accepted defeat, and thereâ€™s nothing wrong with losing to the greatest swimmer there has ever been.â€
And so it was that the greatest swimmer that ever has been was on the deck at The Cube, looking like any 11-year-old at any local swim meet anywhere in the world, screaming himself hoarse, cheering not for his own impending immortality, but for a teammate who already had lent him a forever hand. When Lezak finished up â€” another world record time, some 1.34 seconds faster than any American team ever had swam that race â€” Phelps was lost in a four-man scrum of joy.
Part of history. But part of a team most of all.
Read The New York Post