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Published: Monday, 8/23/2004

Phelps' gesture was truly special

Imagine United States basketball player Carmelo Anthony relinquishing his spot on the court, deferring to a teammate who has a better understanding of the international game.

Wouldn't that be incredibly special and unusual?

And wouldn't that be precisely what the Olympic Games are supposed to represent?

Giving your all, representing your country proudly, making personal sacrifices for the good of the team?

U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps made the ultimate sacrifice when he invited teammate Ian Crocker to replace him for Saturday's 400-meter medley relay.

Phelps' selfless act deserves a gold medal, alongside the six gold medals - eight total - he collected in Athens.

No, that wasn't Phelps pouting on the sideline as Anthony did because basketball coach Larry Brown wouldn't

allow Anthony to play.

Another American swimmer, Gary Hall Jr., was upset at being passed over for a couple of relay teams. Hall received sweet vindication when he won a gold medal in the 50-meter freestyle.

The Olympics are an emotional time for its participants. For some, it can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. No one would have blamed Phelps for swimming in the 400 medley. He earned the right to be there.

Instead, Phelps was up cheering wildly along with the rest of the Americans as the U.S. established a world record in the 400 relay - and Phelps watched Crocker better Phelps' fastest split time in the butterfly.

How about that?

Kind of makes you want to hang on to the hope that these Olympics, despite the forecasts of gloom and doom created by allegations of doping and the Ugly American men's basketball team, have plenty of good to

offer. More good than bad.

Shame on me for initially questioning what really prompted Phelps' act of good faith, as if maybe it wasn't done totally of his own accord.

That maybe, just maybe, because he was already assured of winning a sixth gold medal regardless of whether he swam in the 400 relay, someone may have asked Phelps to sit this one out for the good of the team.

If that's the case, Phelps did a wonderful job of masking his true feelings. Mind you, Crocker is one of Phelps' fiercest rivals. They'll likely go head-to-head again in the 2008 Olympics.

Four years, however, is a long time.

That's what made Phelps' gesture so touching - and, ultimately, so real.

You don't give up something you've trained so hard for unless it's an honest gesture from the heart.

While it's true that Phelps had already won his share of gold medals, there's something to be said for Phelps' personal quest for greatness.

Mark Spitz's don't come around every Olympics. However, could Spitz, a swimming star in the 1972 Summer Games, have done what Phelps did?

Could Spitz have made a similar sacrifice at the expense of personal fame?

It can be argued that Phelps has established a standard of personal excellence and sportsmanship that even Spitz would have difficulty trying to match.



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