It's here. As the Inevitable Phelps Backlash begins to permeate the webosphere, the message boards and your friendly neighborhood conversation, it may feel normal to buy into the anti-hype. But, in reality, downplaying Michael Phelps' facefucking of the aquatic competition in Beijing this time around is more messed up than the 23-year-old's bunk orthodonture.
There's no doubt that the mainstream media embarrassingly fellates this guy at every opportunity (hey, media, try not to suck Phelps' dick on the way to the Water Cube!). There's no doubt that they even cup the balls while they're doing it. But to assert online, in a bar or on your cellular telephone to anyone who will listen that you couldn't care less about Phelps is to admit you enjoy missing out on the rare occasions that prophecies -- both self-fulfilling and bestowed upon others -- actually come true.
How many times have we been disappointed by unexpected defeat and/or mediocrity under the burden of zaftig expectations? How many times have we been promised Shinola and delivered shit in a flaming paper bag? One actually works out for us, and we sit here and pretend we're too cool to care? What is this, the United States of Williamsburg? I'm not the most jingoistic patriot out there, but seeing Phelps proudly represent the Stars and Stripes kinda makes me want to release the bald eagle I've been torturing in captivity as a spectacular protest since the start of the Iraq War.
For all our historic medals, for all our summer dominance through the years, think about our epic failures over the last two decades. For months we were bombarded with Dan and Dave propaganda, as if the Decathlon were to be a two-man event in Barcelona. Dan O'Brien didn't even qualify for the fucking games, and Dave Johnson won a bronze, which is worse than kissing your sister -- it's more like licking your sister's asshole. Michelle Kwan had three tries to turn her nine U.S. Championships and five World Championships into gold medals and lift the U.S. skating program out of Kerrigan/Harding Hell. She proceeded to lose to a 15-year-old (non-Chinese gymnast) in 1998 and a chick with the word "slut" in her last name in 2002.
World champion Dan Jansen had been considered one of the best speed skaters in history before crashing out sans even one medal in three straight games from 1984 to 1992 (eventually he got his shit together and triumphed in the 1994 games). Bode Miller was expected to wreck some shit at the Turin Olympics, but he failed to medal in all five of his downhill events and squandered all his national goodwill in one fell swoop (much like America itself).
The U.S. Men's Hockey team upset the 51st State and won the World Championships in '96 by defeating Canada; then in promptly ate shit in '98 and left a wake of rock star-level disaster behind in Nagano's Olympic Village. The U.S. Men's Basketball team in 2004 featured the world's best players, but like Dave Johnson, they came home with a weird-looking material called bronze. Mary Decker Slaney may be the best American distance runner of all-time, and she couldn't even medal. Shit, she couldn't even make it through a race without colliding with small barefooted South African women.
Now that Phelps has achieved his eight-medal goal, I'm sure the growing anti-Phelps minority, like Hispanics, will increase in number and make more noise. "I've had it with the coverage," they'll sing and shout and snap in unison like a Broadway ensemble. "Is that a speech impediment?," they'll all ask correctly. "I don't give a shit about swimming for 206 weeks every four years, why would I care for these two weeks?," they may question.
But I can't hear this one enough. We revel at the water cooler when our domestic sports heroes succeed, but through the years we've grown more accustomed to reveling in the defeat of our international stars. This should be our time to celebrate the hell out of what this man has been able to accomplish. Most of us would have myocardial infarction episodes if we swam half as fast in a quarter of the races he's won in Beijing. He's done it with aplomb and a smile. He's been the perfect interview. He's been the perfect Olympian.
Perhaps the hardest thing in sports is to win when you're supposed to win. There's no underestimating how difficult it is to actually take home the gold when you're the clear-cut favorite. Phelps didn't just win gold -- he won eight of them. And before you say "But he had more chances," it's important to note how racing as often as he did would preclude him from winning this many. Just ask Katie Hoff, who bit off more than she could chew (and is now just one more disappointing Olympics in 2012 away from a life in softcore porn photo shoots). Many of us have wasted more time watching insignificant individual and team sports than we'd care to admit, so when true history comes along, it only makes sense to salute the greatness of this Bal'more native.
Fuck the new record-breaking swimsuits. Fuck the world records. Every swimmer in every lane had the same opportunity to take down Phelps and his American relay teammates. Several came close, but in the end, I'm not sure we'll ever witness a display as nasty as we saw in the Water Cube lo this past fortnight (or in Phelps' mouth). Whether he is or is not the best American Olympian of all-time is surely up for debate. But one thing is for sure: If you buy into the backlash, you're a giant fuckface.
Finally, on a non-Phelps but "best of all-time" note, this may be the best obituary ever written. Or the worst. Either way, this one even beats "beloved cunt."