In my mind, Michael Phelps gave the U.S. Olympic team two important gifts during his time in Beijing. His historic performance in the pool gave the team eight gold medals, creating a legacy that American athletes will attempt to live up to for years to come. His presence at these Games also seemed to unify the Olympians in a way that had not been seen before.
When the NBC cameras panned into the crowd and showed American athletes during one of his races, it was like watching a large group of high school students cheering at a pep rally. You'd see LeBron James sitting next to various other U.S. Olympians as everyone watched closely to see what would happen. At every Olympics you always see shots of teammates sitting together in the stands. In Beijing, you saw hundreds of members of the American delegation supporting each other.
It didn't matter what sport or background you came from, when you entered the Water Cube or the Bird's Nest to cheer for Phelps or any other American athlete that was there, Team U.S.A.'s spirit was present. Sure, that was the original intent of the Olympics, but I don't remember ever seeing so many members of the U.S. delegation that unified. Phelps' transcendent ability and the emotional reaction it had on other people is something the USOC can take great pride in.
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