Column: Struggling Phelps deserves respect for past accomplishments

By Joe Morgan

Independent Florida Alligator, U. Florida via UWIRE

Michael Phelps may not be the world’s best swimmer anymore, but he still deserves respect.

When former Florida Gator Ryan Lochte cruised to victory in the 400 IM on Saturday, American fans eagerly crowned him the next dominant force in swimming. Phelps, who finished 0.34 seconds shy of third place, was an afterthought. Those who did remember the Baltimore native, however, did not mince their words.

Throngs of fans ridiculed Phelps on Twitter and Facebook. They labeled the 14-time gold medalist as “lazy” and “washed out.” Phelps’ time to shine was effectively done.

Then, Lochte’s reign in London came crashing back down to Earth.

French swimmer Yannick Agnel erased a half-second deficit against Lochte on the anchor leg of the men’s 4x100m relay to clinch the gold and saddle the U.S. with silver.

One day later, Agnel won the 200m freestyle while Lochte placed fourth. It was the first time Lochte had failed to medal in nine Olympic events.

Suddenly, the toast of Olympic pools is French. And with guys like Lochte, Phelps, Brazil’s Thiago Pereira and Japan’s Takeshi Matsuda competing for aquatic superiority in London, Agnel’s stint in the spotlight may be as short-lived as Lochte’s rule.

In a nutshell, dominating a sport — actually, any competition — is difficult. Phelps’ historic run in Beijing was an anomaly.

Record books serve as a reminder that even though millions engage in athletics, only a select few rise above and beyond into legend. Phelps is one of those select few.

You may not like him, and that is fine. Not everybody can get on board with smoking dope and Subway, but show the man some respect.

He has more gold medals than you have close friends.

If you think he is a jerk, just ignore him when he’s on dry land. Perhaps Phelps did not train as hard this time around. You may call him lazy, but a poor work ethic did not get him where he is today. Unless you are gambling on swimming (why?), what does it matter to you?

Athletes have haters, and I recognize that. Not everyone will give Phelps the respect he deserves, but for those of you who will not, I ask you to reconsider.

When the events in London wrap up in nearly two weeks, Phelps will be the most decorated Olympian ever. He has already inspired the next generation of upcoming American swimmers.

If you are going to hate an Olympian, try U.S. ski racer Bode Miller. Talk about a world-class clown.

Phelps may be a burnt-out shell of his former self, but he deserves your respect. He may just be in it for the money this time around, but he has earned that right.

Lochte is a talented swimmer, and non-treasonous Americans everywhere will throw their support behind the 28-year-old. But refrain from hating on the former Gator’s esteemed teammate.

Phelps is U.S. swimming, and he will be until another American swimmer wins nine gold medals in a single Olympics.

Lochte put it best on his Twitter page Saturday: “Thanks @MichaelPhelps I couldn’t do it without you. #USA”

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