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Sports » Phelps' altruism true symbol of Games
Aug 22, 2004


ATHENS, Greece -- So the Michael Phelps Water Show came to a close Saturday. Not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with something like a smile, a sigh and a philosophical bow to the gods of decency and self-effacement.

Oh, yes, and a bunch of double cheeseburgers.

Phelps could have swum the butterfly leg on the U.S. men's 400-meter medley relay team, won an all-but-certain gold medal and set a world record along with Aaron Peirsol (backstroke), Brendan Hansen (breaststroke) and Jason Lezak (freestyle).

But he didn't.

He swam in the qualifying round of the event Friday, then turned his spot over to teammate Ian Crocker.

Crocker is a damned good butterflyer. In fact, he's the world-record holder in the 100 fly. But he was sick earlier in the week, then Phelps edged him out in the final of the 100 fly Friday to win the gold medal by .04 seconds.

The tradition is that whoever wins the 100 fly gets to swim the leg in the final of the medley relay. Phelps thought about it. He thought about his quest to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals. He thought about the world's expectations of him, a kid just a year out of high school.

He already had five golds and two bronzes, and he would get a gold for swimming in the prelims of the medley relay if his teammates won the final. Six golds, two bronzes. Age 19. Not bad.

So he checked out as an Olympics competitor in 2004, saying he was going to sit in the stands and cheer for the medley relay team with Crocker in his place.

"He deserves another shot to prove himself,'' Phelps said Friday.

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