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Phelps wins eighth gold medal at Olympics

BEIJING

What would you like Michael Phelps to do now? Do you wish him to join the water polo team? Do you want him to chase down a kayak? Would you ask him to walk from one yacht to another in the sailing competition? Certainly, there must be another event for Phelps to dominate, mustn't there? He has conquered the pool. He has washed away the doubts. He is aquaman, king of all that is wet, and by now, there are no pretenders to the throne.

All these medals, all these records, all these moments. He has won by huge margins, and he has won by narrow ones. He has won individual races, and he has won relays.

By his final race, Phelps' legacy was golden. Gold No. 8 came this morning (Saturday night EDT), and more than a race, it was an exclamation point, a ceremonial running-up-the-score relay. And yes, Phelps and his teammates won that one, too. Raise your hand if you are surprised.

Mark Spitz? Dare you bring up his name now? When these Games began, there were those who still believed that Phelps had some catching up to do. After all, Spitz won seven gold medals in '72 and Phelps won only six in 2004.

Somewhere during Phelps' relentless swims, any last shred of an argument for that sank to the bottom of the pool. Phelps has won more golds against better competition in tougher circumstances. Not even Spitz would argue for Spitz anymore.

Day by day, Phelps has been amazing. Always, it seems, there have been doubts. Ryan Lochte was waiting for him in the individual medleys. The 200 freestyle was the one individual event he did not win in Athens. There was always the chance a teammate might slip up in the relays. Fatigue might eventually set in.

And none of it mattered. Phelps could have swum in a trench coat while towing a skier and he still would have won.

"I don't even know what to feel right now," Phelps said after it was all over. "There's so much emotion going through my head and so much excitement. I kind of just want to see my mom.

"It's been nothing but an upwards roller coaster, and it's been nothing but fun."

"The Beijing Olympics has witnessed the greatest Olympian of all time — Michael Phelps of the USA," the announcer said as Phelps posed on the deck with his medley relay teammates.

And just like that, a new set of opponents is waiting for him. And one more question. You know, that pesky best-Olympian-of-all-time question.

Carl Lewis, you say?

Phelps, says I.

Yes, King Carl was terrific, and until this week, I would have agreed that he was the face of the Olympics. He won four straight gold medals in the long jump, and he finished with nine track golds. And runners will tell you that it takes more time for their bodies to recover than for swimmers.

That said, Lewis won four of his medals in the boycotted Games of 1984, and he won a fifth when Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids after the 100 meters in 1988. And even with nine golds, the only two world records he set at the Olympics were in relays.

As for Phelps, he faced the finest the world had to offer. And he beat them all. And he rewrote the record book.

Paavo Nurmi, you say?

Phelps, says I.

Yep, back in those Chariots of Fire days, the Flying Finn was all the rage. He won nine gold medals, and he might have won more if he hadn't been declared a professional (for accepting travel expenses) in 1932.

Still, it was a different world back then, and that world didn't include runners from Russia or China or most of Africa. Only 29 nations competed in the 1920 Olympics, and 44 and 46 in Nurmi's next two Olympics. As for Nurmi's nine medals? In his first two Olympics, Nurmi could win two medals in the same race (cross-country team and individual).

In these Olympics, 204 nations are competing. If 70 percent of the earth is made of water, then most of the people who swim in it are here.

Jesse Owens, you say?

Phelps, says I.

This one is hard for me because Owens made such a strong statement with his performance in the 1936 Olympics when he won four golds. Because of the times, however, it was Owens' only Olympics. He turned to professional stunt races (against horses, motorcycles, whatever). Had Owens competed in another Olympics (and 1940 and 1944 were canceled because of World War II anyway) he would have a better claim.

Larisa Latynina, you say?

Phelps, says I.

If you compare only medal counts, Latynina has to be in the argument. She has 18, half of them gold. That's not shabby. However, this was before the gymnastics explosion created by Olga Korbut and Nadia Coma­neci. How different was it? In her three Olympics, Latynina was 21 years old, 25 and 29.

These days, it's the younger, the better in women's gymnastics. Remember, one of the biggest controversies of these Games is that the Chinese used athletes younger than 16. It's inconceivable that a woman in her 20s could compete in the modern form of the sport.

As for Phelps, the competition in the pool has never been better.

Who else do you want to throw at him? Greg Louganis? Stephen Redgrave? Teofilo Stevenson?

I'm sticking with Phelps. And if you aren't convinced, stay tuned.

"Nothing is impossible," Phelps said. "With so many people saying it couldn't be done, all it takes is an imagination, and that's something I learned and something that helped me."

After the next Olympics, he'll erase those doubts, too.

TV schedule

TODAY

.5 a.m.-5 p.m. MSNBC

.10 a.m.-6 p.m. Ch. 8

.3-7 p.m. CNBC

.6-7:30 p.m. Tele.

.7 p.m.-midnight Ch. 8

Detailed schedule, 10C

Torrid Torres

Dara Torres, 41 and in her fifth Games, takes silver in the 50 freestyle — missing gold by 0.01 — and in the 400 medley relay. 11C

The ugly moments

In the Games' first week, five issues stood out for embodying the anti-Olympic spirit. 12C

The shoes. The pose. The reason:

Usain Bolt earns the title of world's fastest man and a gold medal with a 100 meters for the ages. The Jamaican sets a stunning world record of 9.69 seconds and wins by more than a body length. 11C

Phelps wins eighth gold medal at Olympics 08/16/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2008 9:39pm]
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