Overtime: Bittersweet Goodbye To An Olympic Legend

by Megan Edge, Contributor

Kevin Phelps (Photo Courtesy of Maryland Stater)

In all his years as an Olympic athlete, we’ve seen it all from him. From medals to marijuana, it seems as though we have watched Michael Phelps grow up through the television from the comfort of sports bars and couches, and now it is time to say goodbye to the most decorated Olympic athlete in history.

At 27 years old the Maryland native is no doubt a legend. He has 22 Olympic medals — 18 of which are gold.

I will never know how an Olympic gold medal feels on my fingers or hanging around my neck. It’s just not in the cards at 20 years old and probably won’t be in my hand at 27.

Phelps has set the bar at an unbeatable height for the average person. Heck, at 27 I am just hoping to have graduated college and found a stable career. So what sets him apart from the rest of us? How did Michael Phelps become a world-class athlete, role model and legend?

In the Sydney games, back in 2000, Phelps became the youngest male to make the U.S. swim team in 68 years. He didn’t medal, but he was there. At that point in my life, I was competing to be a state soccer champion — I didn’t even take home a bronze.

Two years later, he set an American record in the 200-meter medley and was just seconds away from beating the 200-meter butterfly world record. At those same Pan Pacific Championships, he won gold in the 400-meter individual medley, setting a new world record and came in second for the 200-meter freestyle.

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In 2003, at the world championships, he came in first in four events and second in two. The next stop was Athens, Greece.

At 19, Phelps was back in the Olympic pool to add six golds and two bronze medals to his trophy case. And if those Olympic Games didn’t wow you, his eight-medal sweep in Beijing did.

In between then and now, there were more world medals and there was the pot smoking controversy, but he has been in our lives for so long, you can’t help but find the London games bittersweet.

He has accumulated four golds and two silvers and now he said he

is hanging up his goggles. At the next games he is going to go, and sit in the stands and let someone else take his lane.

But really, will he retire? His mom told 60 Minutes, she wants her boy to compete at the 2016 games in Brazil, but he said he’s done swimming when he turns 30. Will Phelps listen to his momma or will he step aside and let teammate Ryan Lochte take over?

So maybe this is goodbye, Michael. It will be sad to see you go, but it will be nice to watch another deserving U.S. athlete step into the spotlight and show the world that we can take home the gold without you.