There are great athletic performances, and then there are performances for all time, of which there are only a few. What Michael Phelps accomplished in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing is one of the few.
It's not just that he won eight gold medals in a single Games, something never accomplished before, but that he compacted 17 races into just nine days and never faltered once against others swimming less-aggressive schedules. Case in point, the 100-meter butterfly, the closest Phelps came to losing. That final was his 16th race in Beijing. In contrast, it was only the fourth for the man he beat by .01, Serbia's Milorad Čavić, who earlier in those Olympics pulled out of the 100-meter freestyle to focus entirely on the 100 butterfly.
In tackling eight events, including five individual ones, Phelps set himself up for failure. He had to be perfect to slide ahead of fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz, which is what Phelps' quest was always about. Spitz went 7-for-7 in the 1972 Games. If Phelps had draped even one silver medal around his neck, even if it had been surrounded by seven golds, it would have been a symbol of vulnerability not seen in the infamous poster of Spitz sporting nothing but gold around his neck.
Phelps didn't go to Beijing to become one of the best. He went there with his sights set squarely on being the best ever. To accomplish that, he had to take a risk, which he did, and he won.
Other Summer Olympics Memorable Moments on Yahoo! Sports:
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• 1984: Canada's best Summer Games performance ever
• Vote for Canada's most memorable Summer Games moment
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- Michael Phelps