London 2012 – Day 4: Fab Five and Gold

Not since the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta had an American gymnastics team claimed the gold medal in team gymnastics, until The Fab Five (Jordyn Weiber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Kyla Ross, and Aly Raisman) clinched the top spot on Tuesday night.  Call it luck, call it skill, or call it Jordyn Weiber on a mission – the women’s American gymnastics team did what we all expected and hoped they would.  Weiber, Douglas, and Maroney all launced off the Vault to start, securing the highest scores on the apparatus (the highest of which went to Maroney, who scored a 16.233 of a possible 16.5).  Gabby Douglas, the only gymnast to compete in all four events, anchored the team on the uneven bars with an impressive routine and height.  To end, beyond Aly Raisman’s solid balance beam routine, the girls finished their quest with magnificent floor routines by Douglas, Weiber, and Raisman!

The gymnastic gold was a moment of redemption for Jordyn Weiber, who barely didn’t qualify for the all-around finals earlier this week, despite being the reigning world champion.  Speaking of redemption, former Olympic all-around gymnastic gold medalist Nastia Liukin said [re: Weiber] “her soul is richer than most, and that champion can still be revealed, and in gymnastics, she can still be remembered forever.”

In the Olympic waters,  Allison Schmitt claimed the gold medal and set new American and Olympic records in the women’s 200 meter freestyle final.  Schmitt defeated France’s Camille Muffat and Australia’s Bronte Barratt to claim her victory.  Schmitt’s teammate and American swimming sweetheart Missy Franklin missed the medal podium by 0.01 seconds!  In other waters, Michael Phelps competed in and earned his 18th Olympic medal to tie a record set by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina in the mid 1960s.  Phelps finished the men’s 200 meter butterfly final for the silver, just 0.05 seconds behind South Africa’s Chad Le Clos, who ended Phelps’ ten-year domination of the event! Behind Phelps came Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda, who was expected to be the one to dethrone Phelps since he took Bronze in Beijing 2008.

China’s Ye Shiwen, as expected dominated the field in the women’s 200 meter IM, claiming another gold medal for China and establishing a new Olympic record in the event.  Australia’s Alicia Coutts took silver, just ahead of America’s Caitlin Leverenz, who posted a personal best time.  Though Shiwen’s victory wasn’t absent questions of the controversy still surrounding her from the women’s 400 IM competition – which she finished in record time, on par with dominant male swimmer Ryan Lochte.

Finally, in the last final event of the night, American swimmer Michael Phelps established a new Olympic record for the most medals won by a single athlete, earning him the questionable moniker of “the greatest Olympic athlete ever.” Phelps was part of team USA in the 4 x 200 meter final, where he raced alongside Lochte, Dwyer, and Barrons to defeat France and China.  Unfortunately, in a post-race interview, the correspondent congratulated the team by saying, “Congratulations to all of you for being a part of Michael’s historical achievement,” despite the first three swimmers working hard to create a three-second lead against a group of very talented swimmers.

Phelps’ victory broke the 48-year record held by Larisa Latynina, who told the New York Times “forty-eight years is almost enough time to hold a record” and that it’s about time for a man to be able to do what a woman had done long ago.  And while Latynina still applauded Phelps’ victory, many people, myself included, won’t consider Phelps the greatest athlete in Olympic history ever.  Why?  Because some athletes have a limited shelf-life and others can’t compete in the same amount of events – plain and simple.  It also has a bit to do with the decorum a champion exhibits outside of the Olympics and how they inspire or give back to the next generation – and there are other athletes who have done better than Phelps.

Michael Phelps may be the most decorated and one of the greatest champions, but the greatest is a stretch.