Michael Phelps is 'Sports Illustrated's: Sportsman of the year!' An accomplishment that is probably the sporting equivalent of the 'Nobel Prize.' He didn't cure cancer or ADDHD but he certainly inspired people to swim.
Click here for a past list of SI winners.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics were a perfect storm for our sport. There were heroes from Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, South America, Africa, China, Australia, Japan and others. Swimming had global heroes.
When Beijing was over, a person who runs a very notable swim website told me that, "This is the biggest it is ever going to get! It will never get bigger than this," referring to the improbability that swimming at this level could ever happen again. He was both elated and depressed at the same time. I think his comment is worrisome and it could be either a prediction or a fact.
Consider that China spent $45-billion; (the same amount they spend on defense in a single year), building an entire city which showcased swimming in such a masterful way that it elevated swimming to football-esque ratings. Can it get it better than this?
Swimming is at a tipping point! We will either grow exponentially or degrade. Michael Phelps is the Lance Armstrong of our sport and we need a couple more, male or female, or else it will be the latter.
When Lance Armstrong left cycling, The ratings for the Tour de France crashed, this year The Deutschland Tour (Tour of Germany) was Canceled, The Tour of Georgia (US) has been too. To be fair doping may of had something to do with it but Lance Armstrong retiring from the sport was bad for the sport and his reemergence has been GREAT for the sport.
I have no solutions to offer how we can find, create, nurture, or genetically grow another Michael Phelps or Dara Torres. Swimmers generally have a short shelf-life; (save for Dara).
USA Swimming, and perhaps even the USMS, have to create an infrastructure that will find that talent or rediscover a talent such as Dara Torres.