The Phelps Phenomenon

Michael Phelps is an unbelievably talented swimmer for the USA olympic swim team. He could be the best all-around swimmer the world has ever seen. In the run-up to the Olympic games, the media had targeted Phelps with an incredible spotlight, marvelling at the possibility that he might beat Mark Spitz's record of seven golds. Then, the media started to focus on themselves. "Michael, can you handle all of this media attention?" "Michael, will you be able to perform to these incredible expectations?" "Michael, can you be happy with anything less than 8 golds?".

Why can't this guy just go swim and love his sport? Why does the media have to make a circus of the Olympics and of themselves? Reporters are falling over themselves to try to find a crack in Phelps, to show that he is still human. Well... he is! No one deserves the kind of pressure that he has been put under to perform in the Olympics, and it is amazing that a 19 year kid can maintain the level of composure that Michael has shown so far.

Today, as I was reading through the most popular news on Yahoo!, I saw this story. I had to shake my head in disgust. Michael Phelps was beaten by Ian Thorpe, largely regarded as the world's best 200-meter freestyle swimmer, in the 200-meter freestyle. Why was I disgusted? Not because Phelps lost (he got the bronze, and set an American record in the process), but because the article had the audacity to claim that Phelps might be seen as a failure in these olympic games!

This seems to happen every Olympics. An athlete with amazing abilities is made into some type of super-being by the media, and then completely torn apart when they show the slightest crack. In the last summer games, it was Marion Jones and her efforts in track and field. In 1996, it was the tiny gymnast Dominique Moceanu. In 1992 we had the Dan and Dave decathlete hype from Reebok.

One year, I'd love to see the olympics in pure form: for the glory of the sport and game. Forget the announcers, forget the hype, forget the athletes as individuals. Instead, let them be anyone and everyone. Let the athletes compete for the pure joy of exceling in their sport, and for competition. Let us watch the games, and let us be amazed at what we are capable of. I'm tempted to hit the mute button during some events. Maybe I'll try that to see if I enjoy the coverage any better.


Jade Mason