Michael Phelps passes the torch

I had one big fear when I took over the Michael Phelps beat this year: That my predecessors had used up all the superlatives. Phelps' long and glittering career has spanned several Sun reporters, who covered him from his childhood in Rodgers Forge through to Sydney, Athens and, finally, his crowning glory in Beijing. When I was tapped for London, I thought, how many ways are left to say golden, record-breaking, dominating, first, best, perfect, etc.? So if there's one thing I have to thank Phelps for, it's his imperfection. Imperfection isn’t failure -- far from it, particularly when Phelps added four golds and two silvers to his previous hauls and become the most decorated Olympian of all time. But it is human, and when it comes to Phelps, it was unsettling. When he came in fourth in his first race, the grueling 400-meter individual medley, I nearly panicked. This wasn't in the playbook. I didn't come to London to bury Caesar. Then, on the third day of racing, in his signature 200-meter butterfly, Phelps came in second to Chad Le Clos, a 20-year-old South African who idolizes him. Phelps ripped off his swimming cap and flung it in apparent disgust; on the medal stand, his mouth was clenched in a tight frown. Somehow, though, Phelps beat back whatever emotions were coursing through him. By the time the medalists took their victory lap around the pool deck, he had become Le Clos' protective guide, leading the newcomer to the Olympic spotlight on a path Phelps knows by heart. London was Phelps' farewell tour to his sport, and to the Olympics, but in the moment, he remembered to pass the torch. We always knew he was a swimmer who could pull off an amazing race; now we know he is also a human being capable of amazing grace. -- Jean Marbella
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