By Nick Craddock
Day 1 of the London 2012 Olympics has concluded and it seems Michael Phelps’ road to becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time will be a winding, typical English countryside road, rather than a straight, smooth expressway to glory.
Phelps finished fourth in the men’s 400-meter individual medley final and the 16-time medalist was more than four seconds slower than fellow countrymen and rival Ryan Lochte. Both swimmers were expected to give the crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Centre a memorable head-to-head showdown, but Phelps was a shell of his normal dominant self, whereas Lochte was ready to capitalize on what may be a changing of the guard in the pool.
In fact, Phelps has seemed askew since a mediocre U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, nearly four years after his record-setting eight gold medals at the 2008 Olympics.
Perhaps a tad early to push the panic button with Phelps set to swim in six more events (and therefore have a chance for six more medals), Phelps, who appeared noticeably frazzled and at a loss for words after failing to medal in an event for the first time since he was a 15-years-old, may be in danger of slipping from the summit of swimming we have all watched him so effortlessly climb.
In the few times Phelps has been interviewed at these Games, the usually jovial and camera-friendly Phelps appears to be, at best, aloof, and, at worst, disinterested with this Olympic experience, which he adamantly says will be his last, though his Mom maintains that she would love a trip to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Games.
If Phelps continues to merely go through the motions in London, what is supposed to be his Olympic swan song might end up being the worst swim meet of Phelps’ career and blemish the aura of invincibility that took years to build.
Although the average onlooker could have believed that Phelps’ impressive streak of victories would have to end at some point, one has to wonder whether or not Phelps has felt resigned to defeat in the months, weeks and days leading up to these Games because, after all, how could he top his golden performance in Beijing?
Having accomplished every goal he has set for himself, finding the same kind of drive that propelled Phelps to eight gold medals in Beijing after years of rigorous training must not be an easy task.
Take, for example, the driven Lochte, who for four years practiced a tireless training regimen (which includes flipping of 650-pound tires) to edge Phelps in the 400 IM and begin what Lochte has dubbed “his year” in swimming. In comparison, Phelps hurriedly trained over the course of nine months for the same event, in which he won two gold medals previously, after swearing off the 400 IM after Beijing.
Matching a once-in-a-generation Olympic performance was going to be virtually impossible, but with Phelps still searching to find his form from 2008, and perhaps more importantly his confidence, Day 1 of these Olympics confirmed that Phelps no longer has quite as solid a footing atop the peak of the swimming world.
Finding the motivation to press forward and smash the Olympic record for the most medals won likely won’t be as automatic as once was imagined just days ago, before the globe’s best swimmers converged on the road to London glory.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.