“One of the first team meetings we had after trials, Michael stood up and said something to the team that I thought was pretty cool, because he’s never really stood up and said anything to the team,” said Brendan Hansen, who swam the breaststroke leg of the relay. “He always kind of led by action, rightfully so. He was a guy who’s got 14 gold medals before any of these Games, and he said to the team, ‘I’ll never remember the 14 medals. What I’ll remember are the card games, the laughs, the jokes, the fun things, the conversations that you have.’ ”
Slow start, fast finish
Oddly enough, the fact that his week began in defeat may have produced the more relaxed Phelps of London. Just a week ago, he swam a sluggish 400-meter individual medley to, by his standards, a shocking fourth-place finish — and fears that Phelps had run out of steam. Instead, he bounced back, and each day climbed progressively out of whatever hole he had dug himself in.
“Honestly, the first race I think kind of took the pressure off,” Bowman said. “I remember we were just saying, ‘We might as well just enjoy it. It doesn’t look like it’ll go too well, we should at least have fun while we’re here.’ I do think that helped us relax a bit, then he started swimming well.”
For his teammates, the newly vulnerable Phelps became even more of a leader and a mentor to the younger swimmers. How he handled adversity, they said, was even more telling than how he handled triumph.
“You can have great performances,” was the lesson Vollmer took away, “but you can be extremely classy getting second.”
For Olympics-goers, seeing Phelps this week was what it must have been like to see Babe Ruth or Michael Jordan. You simply had to be there.
“We wanted to see Michael Phelps,” Barbara Scanlon, 52, of San Francisco said of what brought her to this, her first Olympics. “We thought it might be the last time to see him.”
A retired CPA and homemaker, she brought her son Ryan, 23, a Berkeley student, as a birthday present, swallowing the cost of a package deal that included the all-important — and hard to get — swimming tickets.
“We had to pay the price,” she grimaced, as her son vowed to make it back by drinking a lot of the beer and wine included for free in one of the package’s events.
“But it was worth it,” she said.
Phelps picked up even more hardware tonight — he received the FINA Lifetime Achievement Award, an acknowledgment of how he’s elevated the sport, bringing in new audiences and talent. FINA is the international governing body of swimming. The trophy was engraved with “Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time.”
Even with all he’s accomplished and with how high he’s elevated his sport, Phelps said swimming hasn’t hit its peak.
“There’s so much more that could be done,” he said.
It just won’t him doing it.