Olympic legends: Michael Phelps – The Phenom

The “Baltimore Bullet” Michael Phelps, diagnosed with ADHD as a child, ended his career with 28 medals – 23 gold – from five Olympic Games that he owes to his mother Debbie.

Michael Phelps wins gold in the 100m freestyle event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games (File Photo).   -  AP

Tokyo will be bereft of the two most popular athletes of our times, who between themselves dominated their chosen sports like none before. The first is Usain Bolt, the other Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Phelps, often referred as the “Baltimore Bullet” as he wound down his illustrious career that spanned five Olympics, has an unprecedented tally of 28 medals – 23 gold – that he owes to his mother Debbie and none else. As a child, Phelps was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and it was the timely intervention of his mother that later gave the world the medal-making machine we know.

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One step to overcoming the problem involved putting the young Phelps in swimming classes with his two sisters. The boy hated getting his face wet, and so he was allowed to remain on his back – hence the stroke that he learnt first. This was when he was just seven, but with his mother in the background, cajoling him to not give up, Phelps did put in a ton of work in the pool, often swimming an astounding 80km every other week. His diet was also extraordinary given the tough training he undertook, but nowhere near the exaggerated 12,000-calorie intake that was often reported.

However, in the later years of his career, after breaking into the American team at 15 and gaining the record of being the youngest to don national colours in 68 years, Phelps would concentrate more on his preparations for each competitive race than the earlier days. Starting his warm-up session exactly two hours prior to his race of the day, he would initially focus on stretching through every limb in the body before entering the pool for a specific series of drills.

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Clearly this was what helped Phelps offset his disappointment in Sydney (just a fifth-place finish in the 200m butterfly) and take Athens 2004 by storm, a picking of eight medals, six of them gold. Beijing 2008 will remain the highpoint of his career as Phelps realised his long-cherished dream of an all-gold finish in each of the eight events he took part in in the Chinese capital. London 2012, too, was profitable as he garnered a further six medals, four of them gold. And then finally came Rio 2016 as Phelps reemerged from retirement to stack up five more golds and a silver.

Each of the various Olympic records in terms of medals was his own, so much so that Larisa Latynina’s benchmark of 18 medals, gained between Melbourne 1956 and Tokyo 1964, that had stood for 48 long years looked a pale shadow by the time Phelps finally bid hurrah.

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