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Beijing 2008 Olympics: The Greatest Of All Olympic Athletes

...Of all the athletes competing at the Olympic Games in Beijing, one of the most iconic is swimmer Michael Phelps.

And it has been a privilege to be poolside to see the American win the first three of a wish list of eight Olympic golds...

Tony Bugby sends this report from Beijing,

(Overnight Michael Phelps bagged two more gold medals to bring his haul in Beijing to five.)

By TONY Bugby in Beijing

Of all the athletes competing at the Olympic Games in Beijing, one of the most iconic is swimmer Michael Phelps.

And it has been a privilege to be poolside to see the American win the first three of a wish list of eight Olympic golds.

It has so far gone swimmingly pardon the pun for the 23-year-old from Baltimore who has no peers at this moment in time.

And after witnessing him in action, Phelps is poetry in motion as he glides through the water with an imperious ease.

They say form is temporary and class permanent, and Phelps could by weekend find himself woven into Olympic folklore if he were to better Mark Spitz who captured seven golds in Munich in 1972.

If anybody can do it, Phelps can because he is not only beating but obliterating world records as he has done in the first three finals.

What struck me about Phelps is the way in which he has an ability to find an extra gear when it is requires.

It is as though he is toying with the opposition before he bursts clear in the final 50 metres of races, something which has happened on a number of occasions.

And that reminded me if the truly great athletes, the likes of middle-distance runners Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram who were able to made a kick down the home straight to leave opponents trailing in their wake.

Phelps is very much is that mould though, even with such immense ability, he will need a slice of luck if he is to make a clean sweep of the golds.

He has already had that in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay when, in his second final, he almost had to settle for silver.

Phelps was the lead-off swimmer but it was Jason Lezak, who swam the last leg, who was the hero as he produced an amazing recovery to make up a sizeable deficit with only 10 metres to complete. No wonder Phelps embraced him!

The daunting schedule of races often two in one session could eventually catch up even with a swimmer of the stature of Phelps. And it just needs one session when he is slightly below par or for something to go wrong to see things going pear shaped. Not that a haul of five, six or seven golds is anything to be sniffed at!

But such are the heights that Phelps has hit that you get the feeling there will be a massive sense of underachievement if he were to fail having won five golds in Athens four years ago.

There was also plenty of emotion as Rebecca Adlington became the first British woman since 1960 to win an Olympic gold.

Her unexpected success came in the final of the 400m freestyle when she, too, came from down the order with a storming finish to catapult her on to the world stage.

Incredibly Anita Lonsborough was the last woman to win Olympic gold which was in Rome and, touchingly, she was at the aquatics centre to witness the feat in her role of Daily Telegraph swimming correspondent.

She was not the only one to shed a tear as there were others in the British camp who found it emotional.

And speaking to Anita afterwards, as well as to Adrian Moorhouse and Sharron Davies, the feeling was that this could provide the catalyst to lift our swimmers to new heights.

Having spent three days at the pool, we still have some way before we can match the power of the United States and the likes of Australia who have produced some fabulous swims from the likes of golden girls Stephanie Rice, Leisel Jones and Lisbeth Trickett.

While Phelps will be without doubt one of the stars of Beijing, if not the most outstanding one, our own Tom Daley has possibly had even more column inches.

The 14-year-old from Plymouth has wooed everybody with his boyish charm and has been lapping up the limelight being photographed with tennis ace Rafael Nadal and NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant.

There was no fairytale ending for Daley in the syncronised 10m platform dive with partner Blake Aldridge as they finished last.

But to reach Beijing only eight pairs did - means they are in the top eight in the world which is still not mean achievement. And the Chinese pair, who triumphed, were a class apart.

Daley still has a second bite of the Olympics cherry as he will compete in the 10m individual on the penultimate day of the event.

I have followed the Daley story here with interest and at the swimming press conference he monopolised proceedings which was not his fault that so many questions were fired at him.

You would have thought your average 14-year-old would find it intimidating in the gaze of television cameras, a battery of photographers and journalists all focusing on him.

But not young Tom who fended off questions with a maturity well beyond his years and with a confidence not many teenagers possess. That will come with practice because he has already been in the spotlight for some time.

It was also clear that Daley had received some coaching because not many 14-year-olds would continually to refer to sponsors as he did. Indeed, the swimming press conference turned out to be a promotional bonanza for them.

Asked how he was finding it in the athletes village, he replied that the rooms had been kitted out with A,B,C and D thanks to B & Q.

Then came how he was coping and he referred to mentors Sir Steve Redgrave and Tanni Grey-Thompson giving him titbits of advice. And of course the mentors were sponsored by Team Visa.

Finally there was reference to his family being here and had they all managed to acquire tickets which obviously they had as they had booked their trips through Sportsworld, though he failed to mention they are the official British tour operators. Naughty boy!

For starters, however, Daley must be a dream for sponsors because not only is this 14-year-old appearing before a global audience but also actively plugging them.

Had it been a senior athlete they would have been pilloried but as it was a schoolboy he was excused and it caused ripples of amusement rather than being viewed with cynicism.

*It became a joke amongst the press pack in Athens how yours truly had a knack of being in the right place at the right time when it came to being present for British medal winners.

And that has continued in Beijing where I have witnessed three of the first four to swimmers Rebecca Adlington and Joanne Jackson and kayak rower David Florence.

That is no mean feat bearing in mind there are 28 sports taking place almost simultaneously.


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