LONDON – The cop who stays on past his retirement. The bank robber looking for "one last score." The boxer who fights well past his prime.
Popular culture is littered with tales of those who either rouse us with their determination in the face of logic or depress us for being oblivious about their ticking clock hitting zero hour.
After Saturday's 400 individual medley final, add Michael Phelps to that list. Heeither should have hung up his swim cap after the Beijing Games, or his journey in London has become all the more inspiring.
Phelps, the 14-time gold medalist, didn’t earn a medal in that event on Saturday in his first loss in two Olympiads. As Chris Chase wrote on Fourth-Place Medal: "Phelps vowed to retire from the 400 IM after winning the event in both Athens and Beijing." Heck, he could have retired from every event before the London Games, resting on his accomplishments as an American Olympic icon.
Buthe pushed ahead and qualified for seven events. One more fight. One more score.
Now, suddenly, the odds don’t favor Phelps. He’s an underdog. And this is a good thing.
Phelps became one of the most popular athletes in the world as an unbeatable machine in the pool. Now, he's something else: a fallen champion, a hero that's strived to attain that level of greatness one last time.
He's Bruce Wayne, hobbling around his manor with a cane before willing himself back into Batman's cowl ostensibly to show he's still got it. In this comparison, Ryan Lochte is his Bane. (Although if they won't let him wear a grill on the podium, chances are they won’t let him wear a villainous face mask.)
What this means for Phelps' fan support is anyone's guess. Lochte is the new hotness – favored in races against Phelps with a movie-star handsome look. Phelps is gawky and personable where his legendary rival is distantly focused.
So does this loss make Phelps a sentimental favorite for his next individual race or showdown with Lochte? Or will Olympic fans feel as though he simply hung on too long?