Phelps and friend have won me over (a little)

Published 12:42 am Sunday, August 17, 2008

What a difference a week can make.

Last week in this space I wrote about my general disinterest in this year’s Olympic Games in Beijing.

A couple of things contributed to my malaise — the number of sports that no one cares about (yes, trampolining and synchronized springboard, I’m talking to you) and the fact that the Olympics were in China, a country that doesn’t exactly typify what I believe the International Olympic Committee wants us to think the Olympic ideal is.

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However, a couple of things that have happened this week have made be out to be just a bit of a liar.

Those things are Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, the United States men’s gymnastics team and the USA men’s basketball team.

I’ll get to Phelps first. There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe what Phelps has done this week.

Eight gold medals and seven world records isn’t even possible in most athlete’s careers. But Phelps did that in just a week’s worth of swimming.

His eight gold medals in one Olympics are a record and his 14 career golds are five more than anyone has ever won.

I found myself riveted to the television to watch Phelps every time he jumped into the pool.

He won races where he dominated, he won races where he had to come from behind and he won races where he had to rely on his teammates.

But Phelps’ finest race came on Friday night in the 100-meter butterfly.

He trailed the entire race but somehow managed to make up ground and then outstretch Milorad Cavic at the wall to win by one hundredth of a second.

It was as high a drama as you could ever get in an SEC football game.

Another great story that made me pause at the television was Torres, the 41-year-old mom who was competing in her first Olympics since 2000.

Swimming against women half her age, Torres did more than hold her own, and wound up with a silver medal in the one individual event she swam in — the 50-meter freestyle — and a silver in a relay.

Just like Phelps, her Olympics were amazing and worthy of all the attention she received.

A team that received far less attention than those two is the U.S. men’s gymnastics team.

The team lost its two best members right before the Olympics started and had to replace them with two alternates.

The U.S. wasn’t supposed to even come close to medaling, but for one night, they were spectacular.

I don’t usually watch gymnastics, but I just couldn’t change the channel as the underdog Yanks kept nailing routine after routine.

When it was over, they came home with the bronze medal, although they celebrated as if they had won gold.

They knew just what they had accomplished. They were proud of themselves and their country, and so was I.

Just how great their performance as a team was came to light a few nights later in the individual all-around competition.

The highest American finisher was only ninth, and the next highest was 12th.

The American men proved that even though they weren’t as talented as many of the teams there, when you put your heart and soul into something and believe in yourself, anything is possible.

The final thing that has warmed me to at least a portion of the Olympics is the performance of the U.S. men’s basketball team, and it isn’t for what they’re doing on the basketball court, but what they’re doing off of it.

The so-called Redeem Team is embracing the Olympic spirit by going to other events to support other Americans.

Saturday night, Jason Kidd, LaBron James and Kobe Bryant, among others were all at the Water Cube to watch Phelps go for his eighth gold medal.

You might think that professional athletes who make tens of millions of dollars wouldn’t care about other sports being competed by non-celebrities, but the basketball team has shown they have found the Olympic spirit.

And I think I might have as well.

And while you’re definitely not going to catch me watching fencing, judo or skeet shooting, thanks to Phelps and friends, my wife and I haven’t had one single fight over the remote this week.

Jeff Edwards is the sports editor for The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3632 or