Michael Phelps: His Greatest Legacy is Still to Come

Michael Butler
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Swimming is a Tough Sell

Raised in a family of swimmers, siblings Michael, Whitney, and Hilary, decided at a very early age to follow in their sisters’ footsteps. And despite the family’s best efforts to recruit their next-door neighbor, Keith Zenisek seems to have been more interested in pursuing sports that didn’t require him to get his head wet. But Michael Phelps proved to be a much more willing participant and developed in to a stellar swimmer as a result.

After winning a record eight gold medals in Beijing’s Summer Olympics in 2008, Phelps was already at the top of the world. But he wasn’t content, and he wanted more. So in 2009, he set his sights on Mark Spitz since the last man to win eight gold medals in the Olympics was Spitz in 1972. Phelps didn’t come up short and won eight gold medals, setting a world record for the most number of gold medals won in a single Olympics.

As phenomenal as that accomplishment was, he thought his legacy wasn’t complete. So, he set his sights on another feat that was even more intimidating.

Michael Phelps Biggest Contribution

Michael Phelps has left a long lasting legacy behind in the swimming world, and he’s undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes to ever live.

But he’s never going to escape his demons and his gradual decline at the 2012 London games, and the post-Olympics fallout with sponsors.

But when he decides to walk away from competitive swimming, his greatest contribution to the sport is going to be attitudinal.

Once he’s done competing, competing will feel different to everybody else.

He’s had that experience of going to the Olympics and winning all those medals. He’s had that experience of the media and the sponsors and the fame. He’s had that experience of winning 5 gold medals at a single games. He’s had that experience of having his hair shaved off and becoming one of the most talked about athletes of all time. Now there is no competition that can offer that experience.

What Michael Phelps may never have been able to do by himself, may be done as an unintended consequence of his legacy. For generations to come, going to the Olympics and winning the Olympic Gold is going to feel different because there will only be one person who can ever say they have done that with any real credibility.

Michael Phelps may be the last of his kind.