Saturday, August 16, 2008

What has 13 letters and means global phenomenon?


Answer: Michael Phelps.

The Beijing Olympics have belonged to one man, a 23-year-old American swimmer from Baltimore who has become a household name from the Philippines to Peru and Cairo to Caracas.

With his sensational gold medal and world record haul so far, Phelps has transcended Olympic sports and exploded onto the planet’s consciousness as a once-in-a-lifetime supernova.

“He doesn’t swim - he flies,” said the sports daily Ole in Argentina.

With his victory Friday in the 200-meter individual medley, Phelps picked up his sixth gold medal and sixth world record of the games. Then on Saturday he tied Mark Spitz’s record of seven golds at a single Summer Olympics by winning the 100-meter butterfly.

His current count of 12 career golds - he also won six in Athens four years ago - already has made Phelps the athlete with the most gold medals in Olympic history.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge calls him simply “the icon of the games.”

Phelps’ feats have drawn banner headlines across the world, including in regions and countries where swimming normally gets scant attention, with newspapers and commentators tripping over each other for superlatives and nicknames:

“The barracuda from Baltimore,” said Chile’s largest newspaper, El Mercurio.

“The New Olympic Legend,” blared Egypt’s El Badeel.

“The American dolphin,” wrote Spain’s El Pais.

“The God of Olympia,” intoned France’s Nouvel Nouvel Observateur.

“The water man from another planet,” hailed Denmark’s Berligske Tidende.

“At a time when world records seemed to have hit the ceiling of what’s physically possible to wrestle out of the human organism, Phelps has been the man who managed to push the limits with his magnificent performance,” the Danish paper said.

With the Chinese team running away with so many golds, the Phelps phenomenon has hardly been the center of attention in the host country, though it has not gone unnoticed. Friday’s newspapers’ headlines were all about another swimmer, Liu Zige, who won the 200-meter butterfly, giving China its first swimming gold of the games.

Chinese media have dubbed Phelps’ the “flying fish” or the “American superfish.” One editorial cartoon showed Phelps as a shark overtaking a torpedo. China’s most popular sports newspaper, the Titan Weekly - which is running daily editions during the games - made Phelps one of its two front-page stories Thursday. It ran a large photo of a joyous Phelps under the headline “His Majesty Phelps.”

The world has shown a special fascination with Phelps’ diet, which counts an amazing 12,000 calories a day - six times what a normal adult male eats. For example, his breakfast includes three fried-egg sandwiches, an omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast, three chocolate chip pancakes and two cups of coffee.

“Any average adult human being needs some 2,500 daily calories to live a life without excesses,” Ole said. “Of course when you’re in the presence of a monster like Michael Phelps, those parameters can go to hell.”

French media have focused on their own swimmer, Alain Bernard, who has one gold and one silver, but have given Phelps his due, too.

The sports daily L’Equipe devoted an entire page to Phelps under the headline “Alone in the Pantheon.” Le Parisien newspaper said, “There aren’t enough superlatives” to describe Phelps.

The Times of London devoted three full pages to Phelps, including a sketch in the style of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man to highlight his physical attributes.

British bookmakers, meanwhile, are already listing Phelps as 5-6 (odds-on) to win five or more gold medals at the next Olympics in London in 2012.

“We couldn’t care less whether he’s the greatest Olympian ever,” Ladbrokes spokesman David Williams said. “The truth is he’s costing us a fortune and [bettors] just love him. If Phelps comes to London in 2012 there’s a strong chance he could clean up again. Frankly, we’re already dreading it.”

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