I spent the past week at my family's cottage, far away from the Internet and cable television. On occasion this can be tedious, but fortunately our vacation this year coincided with the first week of the Summer Olympics. I've always had a tendency to watch almost any sport that's televised, but I was still surprised to find myself glued to the TV for gymnastics, volleyball, fencing, and even water polo. But one of the biggest thrills for me was watching the gripping events that unfolded all week long in the swimming pool.
Night after night, the million-dollar question was: can Michael Phelps make Olympic history by winning an astonishing eight Gold medals? I was skeptical at first, because so many freakish things could happen. But as Phelps earned his medals, one by one, my doubts were erased. Freakish things did happen - and they either didn't matter or actually benefited him. Phelps's goggles malfunctioned, filling with water during one race. As many have suggested, he essentially won the race blind. A boastful French 4X100M freestyle relay team held a significant lead going into the final lap, only for American anchor Jason Lezak to erase a huge deficit in the blink of an eye.
I marveled at Phelps' dominance; it all seemed easy, and automatic at times. By the time the most unusual and incredible finish occurred - Phelps' .01 second win over Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100M butterfly - I didn't even need to see the frame-by-frame photo finish. I was sure that he'd found a way to do it again. There were still some tense moments during the record-breaking final relay race; it wouldn't have taken much for an overeager teammate to jump the gun and thereby disqualify the whole U.S. crew. But in the end, Michael Phelps stood alone in the annals of the Olympics.
I've talked before about the fierce sense of hometown pride that Baltimoreans (or Baltimorons, as we lovingly refer to ourselves) feel when our guys make good. This pride was assuredly at its greatest when Cal Ripken, Jr., Maryland-born and practically raised in the Orioles clubhouse, spent his entire record-breaking Hall-of-Fame career in the orange and black. But after a week spent cheering for Michael Phelps in a foreign land (Pennsylvania is plenty foreign, trust me), it was amazing to come back to Baltimore and see the way we celebrated another world-class athlete that hails from "Bawlmer". The highlight came from Ravens Stadium, just across the street from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The capacity crowd stuck around after a disappointing preseason loss to watch Phelps' final swim and to shout for joy. The swimmer seemed genuinely moved when NBC played footage of his hometown crowd filling the stadium of his favorite team and cheering for him.
Three cheers for Michael Phelps. Even though he seems much more enthusiastic about the Ravens than the Orioles, I won't hold that against him.