The London 2012 swimming competition is over, and it has left me thinking that things are going to be very interesting in Rio de Janeiro four years from now.
I was extremely impressed with the American women’s team because they had many young swimmers who are going to have a lot of success in the future, like Missy Frankin, 17, in the backstroke and freestyle events, and distance freestyler Katie Ledecky, 15, who won the 800 metres.
Shiwen Ye, who won the individual medleys, was unheard of before, and she is only 16. Sun Yang, who won the 400m and 1,500m freestyle gold medal, was incredible among the men, and he is just 20. They are Chinese national treasures, and will inspire a lot of youngsters into getting into swimming programmes in China, which in turn will further improve the team in future.
Twenty years ago the Chinese swimming team was pretty incredible, especially the women, although we were questioning their training procedures back then. They sort of disappeared for a while, and now they are reappearing and those same questions are emerging again. But, from a performance point of view, China is definitely a country to be reckoned with in the pool for the coming years.
Among the men, I think we are going to see Ryan Lochte continue to swim, and I would say that Michael Phelps is going to show up again and maybe swim at least the 100m butterfly.
For somebody who has had as much success as Phelps and the only thing he has known has been swimming, it is going to be really hard to walk away. When he gets into the real world, he’s going to be competing with people that don’t measure their success in the same way.
They don’t put somebody like Bill Gates up on an awards platform and give him gold medal because he got another billion dollars of net worth. They're not going to move Mark Zuckerberg from the first-place podium to the third-place podium because his stock prices fell. What motivates those kind of people in the real world is not the same kind of accolade that an athlete receives, and it is hard to make that adjustment if that is what you are used to, that self-gratifying instant success.
Selfishly, I'd love to see a comeback. But, if he does not return, that leaves a whole open canvas in 50 per cent of the men's events in which we will be left wondering who is going to be the winner, and there are going to be new time standards and new faces and we are going to be talking about them. That is going to be exciting.
When I won seven gold medals in Munich 1972, it was not the death of swimming. The fact that Phelps has won so many gold medals is not going to be the death of swimming, too.
When I swam, it took 36 years for somebody to break the record of seven gold medals and go one more. But all the people who came after me, the Matt Biondis and the Ian Thorpes, are to this day recognised as the greatest swimmers of their era.
Then there was Phelps. But in the years 2016, 2020, 2024 there will be somebody else who will replace Phelps, and there may be several people that we look to. His world records will be broken, as they have already been, and once those records get broken we will look at those people as being the best in the world.
We are not going to forget what Phelps did, just like people didn’t forget what I did for 36 years. But you can’t judge somebody by saying, well, if you don’t win seven gold medals you must be nobody. That doesn’t happen. There is always a new flavour of the month, and that is what’s going to happen in swimming. DPA/TCM