Michael Phelps: His Greatest Legacy is Still to Come

There’s no real argument about whether or not Michael Phelps is the greatest athlete to ever put on a pair of swim goggles, or even compete in the Olympics, or do anything, ever. But what does remain to be decided is what Phelps greatest legacy will be in the sport of swimming.

Phelps talked often about expanding the horizons of the sport, of bringing more awareness to it, of bringing it to the masses. As was evidenced by the disappointing attendance marks set at Nationals last month, the first National championship meet not featuring Phelps since 1999, the sport is going to miss the awareness and interest Phelps drew.

SEE ALSO: Butterfly Sets: 3 Sets for Dominating the 100m Butterfly

Swimming is a Tough Sell

For the casual sports fan, swimming can be a difficult sport to watch. You don’t really see the athletes faces as they splash back and forth, they swim large portions of the race underwater, and in races like the 50 it’s impossible to judge a winner without looking at a scoreboard.

Michael Phelps was a superstar – and the casual sports fan loves a super-star. It’s engaging and enthralling to watch someone at the peak of their sport, an athlete that casually dominates their peers. Jordan had it, Woods has it, Phelps has/had it.

In 2009 when Indianapolis last hosted Nationals attendance was nearly triple what it was this year. At that meet Phelps set a world record in the 100m butterfly, no easy feat given that he was less than a year removed from the masterpiece that was Beijing.

Michael Phelps Biggest Contribution

However, Phelps most long lasting legacy is still to be written. Beyond all of the gold medals, and the talk about Phelps’ height, wingspan and more, it will be the next generation of swimmers that will be his true legacy.

It won’t necessarily be the records, the incredible swims, or the wall-to-wall coverage. It will be in the tens of thousands of up-and-coming swimmers who joined the sport in each post-Olympic year in the United States.

As these swimmers develop, and a select few grow into top echelon athletes, in the pre-race athlete vignettes at future Games you will inevitably hear, “I started swimming after watching Phelps win in Athens/Beijing/London.”

While a bump is expected in a post-Olympic year, it is likely that a great proportion of those new members of USA Swimming were prodded into strapping up a Speedo after the massive coverage Phelps was generating at the pool.

Here you can see how membership in USA Swimming jumped dramatically in post-Olympic years–

2005 – 249,182 swimmers (7% increase)

2009 – 286,147 swimmers (11% increase)

2013 – 340,000 swimmers (13% increase)

There will never be another Phelps.

There will instead be Lochtes, Franklins, and a host of other swimmers who will develop to dominate on the international stage.  And those classes of swimmers, who will in turn inspire another set of young talent, will be the greatest legacy that Michael Phelps could hope for.

Related Articles

Commentary

Are You Hating on Phelps’ Comeback? If So, Stop.

With Phelps return to competition less than a week away, there has been a flurry of interest and speculation over Phelps comeback, guessing as to his motivations for coming back, and equal parts enthusiasm as dismay. His legacy will be tarnished. He’s too old. Obviously he is missing something in

Read More »
Bob Bowman characteristics of champions
Michael Phelps

Bob Bowman – Characteristics of Champions (Video)

Bob Bowman, head coach of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and Michael Phelps’ long time coach, shares what he believes are the core characteristics of champions, whether in the pool, the field, or the boardroom. In this 18 minute speech given for Chicago Ideas Week, Bowman talks about what it

Read More »
Michael Phelps

Phelps Close to Racing Again, Says Longtime Coach

The Michael Phelps comeback tour looks like it is ready to kick off, according to his longtime coach, North Baltimore Aquatic Club’s Bob Bowman. In an interview with USA Today Sports, Bowman discussed Phelps training schedule (he is averaging five practices a week with NBAC, which also includes a thick

Read More »
Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps to Make Appearance on Suits

Michael Phelps will add to his IMDB resume when he guest spots on popular legal dramedy Suits. Phelps has tweeted about his adoration for the USA network show, saying that it was right up there in terms of favorites along with ESPN’s SportsCenter and Game of Thrones. #suits at the

Read More »