Yesterday, I went on Twitter and was instantly spoiled about the results of the first Phelps-Lochte showdown, roughly nine hours before the race was broadcast. Among the Tweets instantly broadcasting the results were thoughts from fans expressing their disappointment in Phelps’ performance so far (for the record, he came in fourth in the 400M Individual Medley and got a silver medal for the 4×100 Freestyle Relay, with Lochte), fans who were quickly moving away from their hero and switching their allegiances. This is all after one bad race, a few seconds where this highly decorated athlete didn’t meet all expectations. That got me thinking of something else that did not recently meet expectations, something that recently surfaced in pop culture.
Right now, Michael Phelps reminds me of The Dark Knight Rises.This seems like a strange conclusion to come to, but hear me out. The Dark Knight Rises got good reviews when it was released last weekend, but the consensus in almost all of them was that it wasn’t as good as predecessor The Dark Knight. I saw the film for the second time recently because I thought that it was a better film than I thought it was the first time I saw it. I cleared my mind of all context besides the film, and I found myself liking it more as a film and a work of art. Part of the problem I think I had the first time around was that I was waiting for it to be The Dark Knight. I was waiting for it to be the next Best Picture Academy Award nominee, something that would exceed all expectations like The Dark Knight did. The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie, but it is a different film than The Dark Knight. Michael Phelps destroyed all expectations in Beijing the same summer The Dark Knight reinvented the Batman movie. Phelps won the gold in each of the eight events he swam in (breaking the previous world record of seven gold medals one in a single Olympics) and set world records in seven. He beat Milorad Cavic by 1/100 of a second in the only race he didn’t set a record in. Phelps was unstoppable, a true Golden Boy.
In the four years between Beijing and London, the world has changed. Rather than going unspoiled, most of the world gets results of races and competitions hours before they are broadcast. The latest Batman series has ended, and Phelps announced that this would be his final Olympics. Because of his impending retirement and his standout performance in 2008, a fourth-place finish is considered unacceptable. Anything less than first place finishes send his fans running for the hills. Like The Dark Knight Rises, Michael Phelps won’t destroy all expectations, but he shouldn’t have to. Just like TDKR is a different movie, the 2012 Michael Phelps is different from the 2008 Michael Phelps. I’m not saying that people need to lower their expectations, but what Phelps is doing is going out there and giving his all, just like he always does. That’s what the focus should be, not just his medal count.