Michael Phelps has just won the 100 meter butterfly at the World Swimming Championships in Rome and I , for one, couldn’t be happier.In winning the race 1n 49.82 seconds and setting a new world record, Phelps beat back the challenge of Milorad Cavic of Serbia and effectively shut him up. Unlike their race in Beijing, this time there was no doubt at all about the final outcome. Cavic was leading at the turn , as expected , but Phelps tracked him down in the final 15 meters and won handily by a margin of 0.13 seconds.
Prior to last week, I had a lot of sympathy for Cavic even though I am a Michael Phelps fan . At Beijing, Cavic lost by the slimmest of margins, one hundredth of a second. It might even be that Cavic touched the wall ahead of Phelps but not hard enough to trigger the sensor ; Phelps made no such mistake and was adjudged the winner. It was a heartbreaking loss and I’d have had no quarrel with the judges if they’d declared it a dead-heat and given both men gold medals. However with the modern technology now available, it was possible to break down time into infinitesmally small intervals and there could not be a tie. It was a bitter loss for Cavic to swallow , no question about it.
At these world championships though, Cavic has been difficult to stomach. He had been talking smack about his chances against Phelps and had needlessly involved himself in the controversy about the new swimsuits which are legal for now but will not be allowed next year.Phelps did not choose to answer him but did all his talking in the pool. Inspite of the disadvantage of wearing the old Speedo LZR Racer swimsuit (which will continue to be legal in the future), Phelps was still able to beat Cavic in a new world record time. Sweet, sweet, sweet !
To some extent I can understand Cavic’s behavior. Still sore about his loss at Beijing,he was trying to pump himself up ahead of the clash with Phelps. What I cannot understand are the critics who denigrate Phelps for a variety of reasons unrelated to his performance in the pool. Some sneeringly remark that he must have had a ‘hit ‘ of the bong before he jumped in the pool today ( a reference to the pot-smoking incident of a few months ago). Others see Cavic as a hero who goes to school while pursuing his swimming career and Phelps as a spoilt kid who has grown rich off his endorsements giving him complete freedom with his swimming. Still others see Phelps as arrogant in victory. Phelps was also roundly criticized for refusing an audience with the Pope today . ( He wanted to rest up and mentally prepare for the 100 M fly finals later in the day ).One fellow even goes so far as to jibe that no one could possibly be that dominant a swimmer,that Phelps must be on performance enhancing drugs and that he will be found out before too long. Isn’t that what they said about Lance Armstrong too ?
I can understand the Europeans rooting for one of their own. I can understand fans , European or American, rooting for the underdog. What I cannot stand is fans who will not give credit where credit is due , who seem to want nothing more than to tear down a sports icon, and who will not give acknowledge Phelps ‘s greatness even when he wins fair and square.