Not surprisingly, Michael Phelps has been awarded his first gold medal, in the 400m individual medley–and he set a new world record in the process:
The 19-year-old Phelps, who holds the world record in the 400m IM along with two other events, led the whole race and spent the final 350m below world-record pace.
American Erik Vendt took the silver, chasing down Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh in the final 50m to finish in 4:11.81.
“I’m perfectly happy right now,” Phelps said after stepping up to an Olympic podium for the first time. “I said I wanted one.
I have my one now. Now I just have to stay focused and go out and swim my races.”
There’s a very real, intangible sense of pride that I felt when Phelps hit the wall and realized that he’d not only won his first medal, but also broken another world record. At the rate he’s going, the rest of this week in Athens is undoubtedly going to be amazing.
The next question: Will the gold that Phelps will undoubtedly continue to accrue this week impact his attitude at all? His Australian counterpart, Ian Thorpe, has a very strange cocky attitude about him–probably having something to do with his “idol” status in that country. My sense is that, regardless of how famous Phelps becomes, he probably won’t seem quite as arrogant as Thorpe (even if Thorpe–the “Thorpedo”–has earned his own bragging rights after all this time).
This may be, in part, due to the fact that Phelps has had the same swim coach since age 11. His mother, as well, seems to be a very strong presence in his life, considering that he had to plead with her to let him buy a “tricked out” Cadillac Escalade (including those silly spinning rims). Since he’s only 19 and still lives at home, chances are good that he’ll remain headed in a positive direction.
There’s also an undeniable cultural difference between Australia and the United States that also helps explain the differences between Thorpe and Phelps. Here in the US, while it’s true that athletes can have their moment in the spotlight, it’s sports like basketball and football that remain dominant. This is unfortunate, as it almost entirely overshadows star athletes in other sports.
Whatever the final medal count from this Olympiad, this is only Phelps’ second visit (his first was when he was 15)–future games will almost certainly prove to be just as exciting. The biggest tragedy that I can foresee in Phelps’ future? At some point, he’s not going to be able to break his own records anymore!