The story of the Beijing Olympics was not the opening ceremonies which featured over 15,000 Chinese performers working perfectly in sync (especially the syncing of lips) and costing over $100,000,000.
It wasn’t the Free Tibet protests, to which the Chinese government reacted aggressively despite their insistence that there would be zones set up for the demonstrations. The focus wasn’t Usain Bolt’s amazing 100m and 200m record-breaking sprints. It wasn’t on the smog in Beijing that forced at least one athlete to drop out of the Games due to asthmatic issues.
No, the focus of the 2008 Olympic Games was on Michael Fred Phelps.
Sports Illustrated’s illustrious Sportsman of the Year award went to Phelps; the identity of the recipient was never in doubt. The swimmer pulled in an unprecedented eight gold medals, breaking the world record in each event (including the relays), prompting the previous record holder for most medals, Mark Spitz, to declare, “It goes to show you that not only is this guy the greatest swimmer of all time and the greatest Olympian of all time, he’s maybe the greatest athlete of all time. He’s the greatest racer who ever walked the planet.”
The media fawned over Phelps, noting his apparent willingness to interact and play with children after practices. When questioned about possible doping to enhance his performance in the Olympics, Phelps pointed out that he had signed up for Project Believe, which takes those who volunteered and submits them to addition testing, beyond what is required by World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines. Phelps has been called a “solitary man” with a “rigid focus,” “kind-hearted” and “incredibly invested in the success of the people he cares about.”
This guy is competitive, enormously gifted, driven, and by golly, he’s American (also known as ‘Mericun). The United States press and public could find no wrong in Michael Phelps.
In the past few hours, the sporting world has experienced a bit of a shock…
According to sources reporting to News of the World, Michael Phelps is the man in the above picture, almost certainly taking a hit from a bong.
THIS is the astonishing picture which could destroy the career of the greatest competitor in Olympic history.
In our exclusive photo Michael Phelps, who won a record EIGHT gold medals for swimming at the Beijing games last summer, draws from a bong.
And after sporting chiefs announced laws which mean four-year bans for drug-taking, Phelps’ dreams of adding to his overall 14 gold medal tally at the 2012 games in London could already be OVER.
Over three years away, Phelps’ dreams of matching his Beijing accomplishments at the 2012 Olympics in London are quite possibly finished. Our hero has not only fallen, but been described as loud, obnoxious, and seemingly at home with a bong in his hands.
[UPDATE] – It appears drug testing only eliminates a player from competition for four years during testing periods. 2012 is still on for Phelps.
Our hero has fallen.
The media (both American and international) has an alarming tendency to build our rising stars up with fanfare, and document their often rapid declines with barely-sustainable glee. Britney Spears, Kobe Bryant, Lindsay Lohan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush are but a handful among the thousands that have been crushed by the media, every aspect of their lives criticized and mocked. We most often highlight their mistakes, sometimes deservedly (but not necessarily rightfully) so.
American has often called itself a nation that is quick to forgive. Perhaps, but we never forget. We also must admit to enjoying the trampling of a public figure underneath our collective feet.
But at what cost is this being done?
Michael Phelps has messed up, period. This is a crucial time of his life, and how he reacts to this fiasco is entirely up to him, but how we react is up to us. Even if he is banned from the 2012 London Olympics, would we still cheer on his return in 2016, hoping beyond hope that our fallen star could rise again?
I’m not sure, but despite Phelps’ mistake, and despite the fact that he could currently be called a questionable role model for young people everywhere at this moment, I’m concerned about the way we treat our celebrities.
These are people. They all have their hurts, their aches, and their weaknesses. We are not expected to be lenient towards wrongdoing, nor are we obligated to agree with the positions and lifestyles these people take.
But shouldn’t we at least remember there is always a human behind the headline?