Right when the the London games began, Sports Nation—the public-opinion-driven ESPN TV show—asked its fans: Who are you rooting for? Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte? The results came back overwhelmingly—for Lochte.
"Phelps didn't even medal," Sports Nation tweeted.
Okay, I sort of understand that. Everyone likes an underdog and Phelps was so dominant in Beijing he almost seemed super-human, invincible.
But at the same time, the guy has brought so much glory to his country, his town, his sport, you'd think he'd get a LITTLE love.
In fact, the opposite seems true. Lately, there's been a disturbing and consistent backlash against our most decorated Olympiad.
There was, of course, the snipe from his own teammate, Tyler Clary, who claimed that Phelps was merely coasting on talent and that his heart wasn't in it.
Then there was this truly unfair article from LA Time's columnist Bill Plaschke, suggesting that Phelps was less of a team player than Lochte.
Yesterday, the Telegraph of London challenged the conventional wisdom that Phelps is the greatest Olympiad of all time.
And of course there was the amusing Call Me Lochte video—where a male fan announced his allegiance to Lochte in a rather, um, overzealous way—that went viral.
I feel a need to defend our hero, so I'll to take these accusations point by point.
To Clary: Criticizing the work ethic of a man with 19 Olympic medals, 15 of them gold, has to be the very definition of "check yourself before you wreck yourself." Also, way to have a teammate's back, buddy.
To Plaschke: First of all, Ryan Lochte has been pretty famous for a few months. Phelps has been one of the most FAMOUS PEOPLE IN THE WORLD for eight years. To suggest that Phelps act more like a regular dude is just silly. Cal Ripken stayed at a separate hotel from his team during the crazy stretch run of The Streak. Did anyone accuse him of not being a team player? (Also, look at that photo above. That's Phelps celebrating teammate Nathan Adrian's gold in the 100 freestyle. Does that look like a guy who doesn't love and support his teammates to you?) (Yes, that's a photo I took with my cell phone off my TV. I know, photojournalism FAIL.)
Also, people have different personalities. Not everyone can have a blinged out "grill" for every medal ceremony (and thank God for that) or a special YouTube video where he lovingly describes his own awesomeness. Nothing against Lochte, he's a colorful character. He's just cut from a different cloth than Phelps. Phelps is laid-back and even a little shy.
To the Telegraph of London: First off, no one said, definitively, that Phelps is the greatest Olympiad of all time. We merely said he deserves his spot on the Olympics Mt. Rushmore. Of course, you can't empirically compare Phelps's achievement to that of Jesse Owens, or even Nadia Comaneci. And of course, because of relays, Phelps had more opportunity to win gold than, say, a gymnast or weightlifter. That being said, he WON ALL THOSE RACES. No other swimmer has ever done that. And one of the reasons why he has racked up so much gold is because he's so incredibly versatile. For Phelps to win the 100m butterfly AND the 400m individual medley is the equivalent of a track star winning both the 60m and a long-distance run.
As for the Call Me Lochte video. . .okay, that was cute.
Of course, for every one person who doesn't like Phelps, there are tens of thousands who adore him. And, as Mike Wise in the Washington Post points out, the most important person in Phelps's life is the one who loves him most: Mama Phelps.
Go Team Phelps!