Phelps Wins Seventh Medal, Gives Up Relay Spot
Michael Phelps ended his magnificent Olympics with a magnanimous gesture. He matched Mark Spitz’s record of four individual gold medals in the pool, then gave up a coveted spot on the 400-meter medley relay team to Ian Crocker — whom Phelps had just beaten. With five gold medals and two bronze overall, Phelps is content to win a historic eighth medal while sitting in the stands Saturday night. His Olympics are over. “We came into this meet as a team,” Phelps said. “We’ll leave here as a team.”
In an Olympics that became his personal showcase, the 19-year-old from Baltimore came through with another stirring performance Friday in the 100 butterfly. He rallied to beat the man who held the world record and defeated him at both the world championships and the U.S. trials. Normally, the winner of the 100 fly gets a spot in the medley relay final. But everyone who participates on a medal-winning relay team — whether it’s the preliminaries or a final — is rewarded. Therefore, Phelps still can tie Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin’s record of eight medals in one Olympics, set at the boycotted 1980 Moscow Games. The United States has never lost a medley relay and will be an overwhelming favorite again — no matter who swims the fly. “It’s tough to give up the relay. It really is,” Phelps said. “But Ian is one of the greatest relay swimmers in the world. He wasn’t feeling well during the 400 relay. Hopefully, he’ll step up big in the medley relay.”
Certainly Phelps had every reason to be tired, racing for the 17th time in seven days. He competed in the medley relay in the morning, while Crocker had been able to rest up for their showdown. And though he says he’s looking forward to breaking training — “It’s McDonald’s time” — no one doubts he had another race left in him. “I’m speechless,” said Crocker, looking to redeem himself after his poor performance last Sunday. “It’s a huge gift, but difficult to accept. It makes me want to just go out there and tear up the pool tomorrow.”
Another thing: Phelps is sensitive to teammates who have been overshadowed by his amazing accomplishments leading up to these games. “It’s the right thing to do,” Phelps said. His gesture wasn’t lost on the International Olympic Committee. “He’s a great champion,” said IOC president Jacques Rogge, who watched Phelps’ victory from a front-row seat at the Aquatic Center. “Definitely, he is going to be one of the icons of the games.”
Nice gesture, indeed.