London Summer Games a Swimming Success


David Eulitt

Phelps stands triumphant at the London games shortly after winning his record 22nd medal. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT)


It started off shaky, to say the least. Michael Phelps, crown jewel of the U.S. Olympic swimming dominance, started off the Games of the XXX Olympiad with a fourth-place finish and a silver medal in his signature event. The tone of the media coverage shifted quickly from expectant and optimistic to an unpleasant, weighed-down melancholy; it was as though the verdict was in, and the world’s best swimmer failed to go out on top. Now, the verdict truly is in, and the U.S. swimmers have turned any fear of disappointment squarely on its head.

Phelps stands triumphant at the London games shortly after winning his record 22nd medal. (David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT)

Phelps, now the most decorated Olympian of all time, went on to sweep his remaining events. He didn’t just surpass the career number of eighteen total medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, he smashed it, finishing with 22 medals, 18 of them gold. If that number jumped out at you, then rest assured: Yes, Phelps does have as many gold medals as the former total-medal record holder has Olympic medals of any kind. His 19th, the record-breaker, was won in the 4 x 200 meter freestyle relay. It was, as is only fitting, a gold medal. Latynina, who was present at the race, asked to be allowed to present the record-breaking medal to Phelps and called him “deserving of the record.” He is, by measure of both sheer numbers and by the respect of his fellow Olympians, the greatest. And yet, his was hardly the only mind-blowing performance of these summer games.

Ryan Lochte, Phelps’s teammate and competitor, bested the all-time champion in their first event. While Phelps just missed the podium, Lochte took home the gold in the 400 meter individual medley. By the end of the London games, Lochte earned five medals, bringing his career total up to 11 (behind only Phelps in all-time swimming medals).

While the talk leading up to the games centered around the competition between Phelps and Lochte, it was the U.S. women who took London by storm, smashing records and grabbing golds left and right. Swimmers Missy Franklin, Rebecca Soni, Allison Schmitt and Dana Vollmer each broke world records. The four teamed up to break the record and win the gold in the 4×100 meter medley relay, three of the four women set individual records as well. Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old, set hers in the 200 meter backstroke. Rebecca Soni did so in the 200 meter breaststroke, becoming the first woman to swim it in under 2 minutes and 20 seconds, and Dana Vollmer broke the record in the 100 meter butterfly.

Perhaps the most amazing performance, however, was remarkable for a different reason. It was still a number that stood out, but this time, it was age and not just time. Katie Ledecky, a 15-year-old from Washington, D.C., won the women’s 800 meter freestyle, breaking the American record that had stood for over 13 years. Her personal-best time in the Olympic finals stunned announcers and viewers alike, as it showed a five-second improvement in less than a month.

Some said that the US was always expected to dominate the swimming events in 2012, but they overlooked just how remarkable that dominance turned out to be. From shocking newcomers to the crowning of the greatest of all time, the Games of the XXX Olympiad will be talked about for decades to come. The U.S. swimmers have made sure of it.