China may dominate table tennis and the over-all medal count, but swimming is as Ameri-”can” as apple pie thanks in part to a boy from Baltimore named Michael Phelps and the next generation he has inspired. In London this summer, Team USA garnered 30 medals overall in swimming (16 gold), while China won only 10 swimming medals (5 gold).
Michael Phelps came to London with a heavy load. He was carrying around the weight of 6 gold and 2 bronze medals won in the Athen Olympic and 8 gold Olympic medals won in China.
On Day 1 of the London Olympics, Phelps swam the 400-meter individual medley. Surprisingly, Phelps failed to win, place or show – coming in 4th well behind USA team member Ryan Lochte who came in first. You could see he was sad when he exited the pool and his broad shoulders were a bit slumped. According to a London2012.com news article, after this first race Phelps said, “I am a bit frustrated. I’m not feeling that great. I just want to put this race behind me and move on. It’s not the start that I would have liked to have but I’ve just got to move up. I have a bunch of other races and hopefully we can finish a lot better than we started. That’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Things went from sad, to bad when that same day team USA came in 2nd losing to France in the 4 times 100 meter freestyle relay despite the fact that they were in the lead for most of the race. Phelps also suffered another set back when he came in 2nd in the 200m Butterfly.
The slump didn’t last too long; Phelps and Team USA literally swam their hearts out throughout the rest of the games. Dana Vollmer was one such swimmer. She managed to garner 3 gold medals including one world record in the 100 m Butterfly with a time of 55.98 and an Olympic record in the Women’s 4 times 200 m Freestyle relay with a time of 7:42.92. Winning gold medals is no small accomplishment, but when you consider the fact that Dana had heart surgery in 2003 to correct a serious heart condition and has a secondary that can cause her heart to stop at random, then those 3 gold medals are more than incredible. Vollmer is forced to carry a defibrillator with her in case of an emergency but said, “ I would rather die swimming than not do it at all.” (London2012.com siting Washington Post, August 9, 2004).
Phelps managed to put his frustration behind him and made history again when he became the first person to win the same event (the 200 IM) 3 Olympics in a row over the span of 12 years. He also became the most decorated Olympian of all time with 20 medals after he finished his career with the victory with the 4 times 200 m freestyle.
On the same night Phelps won his final individual gold medal in the 100 m Butterfly race, 15 year old newcomer and Team USA member Katie Ledecky won gold in the 800 m freestyle. During the race, I was sitting next to Sid Cassidy, a long time Coach at St. Andrews in Baca Raton Florida. Cassidy noted, “It is fantastic to be here to witness the incredible Phelps and watch him close out his career with style, then on the other end of the spectrum see a 15 year old rookie take the baton and open her career with a historic win.”
In addition to the 15 year old, amazingly, the second most decorated athlete of the Olympics with 4 Gold and 1 Silver medal is the young 17-year old Missy Franklin from Pasadena.
Regardless of the medal count, I was most impressed with how the Olympic swimmers inspired my own children. While we in the Aquatics Center one night watching the races, my 11-year-old informed me that he decided to forego playing football in the fall and opt to swim instead. He also insisted that we visit a local London public pool so he could work on his form because “every second counts.”
When Michael Phelps looks back on his career and retires to “travel the world”, I hope he knows that he won much more than medals these past few Olympics, he won over hearts and taught us to dream big, dive deep and swim it to win it!