We will never see another Olympian like Michael Phelps.
I don’t know if anyone will even come close to the success of the 27-year-old swimmer.
He recently ended his career with 22 medals.
That’s right, 22.
And it’s not like he finishes third in all his races. He isn’t just content with getting on the medal stand. He’s been on top of it. In his three Olympic games, he has won 18 gold medals.
He added six medals in this year’s Olympics in London, including four golds.
Of course, it wasn’t always smooth swimming for the most decorated Olympian of all time.
His very first final in London, 400-meter individual medley, he wasn’t on the medal stand. Instead, he finished a disappointing fourth.
A lot of people, me included, thought he was done.
I thought, ‘This isn’t the Michael Phelps of four years ago.’
And I was right, it wasn’t the same swimmer who captured eight gold medals in the 2008 games.
But this version turned out to be pretty darn good, too.
It seemed that every night, Phelps was doing another event.
And it seemed like every night after that first, he was wracking up more and more medals.
What was really surprising was that a lot of them were gold.
He took home four gold and two silver medals from the London games in a year where people thought he was too old, past his prime or didn’t work hard enough to prepare.
Sure, it’s not quite the eight medals he had in 2004, or the eight golds he won in 2008, but there is nothing wrong with winning six medals.
And that’s when I realized. The expectations we have for this athlete are way too high.
For most people, being on the Olympic team is the penultimate experience. If they can take home a medal of any color, great. If it’s gold, then that’s a lifetime of memories.
Phelps has 22 medals; 18 golds.
But like the rest of the great athletes of our generation, we expect so much.
We expected Michael Jordan to make the game-winning shot.
We expected the Dallas Cowboys to win every Super Bowl in the 90s.
And we expected Phelps to win gold.
But Jordan didn’t make every shot. The Cowboys didn’t win every title and Phelps didn’t always win gold.
He has said time and time again this would be his last Olympics. And I hope it is.
Not because I don’t want to see what a 31-year-old Phelps would be like in 2016, but because he’s going out on top. He has nothing left to prove.
The lasting memories we’ll have will be of his gold-medal performance as part of the 4×100-meter medley relay. It won’t be of some broken down swimmer who used to be good.
There is nothing worse than watching an athlete who used to be the best. And there’s nothing better than watching as one leaves on top.
For Phelps, he has nothing left to prove. He has won more medals than anyone. He has won more golds than anyone. He captivated an audience and drew a country to a sport that seems to find the spotlight once every four years.
And for that, he’s done enough.