Twenty for Twenty
The 20 Greatest Acts of Sport Since 1992
From the Print Edition:
Jeremy Irons, March/April 2013
(continued from page 4)
Before the Athens games, Phelps and Coach Bob Bowman sought to build a massive aerobic capacity, logging 50 miles a week in the pool. “During those six years it was a sacrifice that I made to become my best. In bed at 10 or earlier every night, waking up at 6:30 every day: I would do anything. Whatever Bob told me, I would do about 10 times better.”
He lost motivation after the eight pieces of gold in Beijing. “I did nothing for a long time. I gained 25 pounds.” The rumors about his eating entire pizzas and two dozen eggs were excessive, but a friend told him, “Bro, you’re fat.” He then thought, “As I come to closure on my career, am I going to look back and say, ‘What if’? That’s something I don’t want.”
Now retired, Phelps will avoid the path of ungainly athletes who perform after their best days are behind them. “I always said I wouldn’t swim past 30. I don’t want to be that guy who’s hanging on.”
12. Usain Bolt
The Evolution of Sprinting
First came Beijing. Bolt was so far ahead of runner-up Richard Thompson in the 100 meter finals that he slapped his chest in celebration. “Disrespectful” actions said IOC president Jacques Rogge. Bolt disagreed: “When I saw I wasn’t covered, I was just happy.”
Regardless of what his future brings, Bolt has salted away six golds in electric performances at Beijing and London.
It’s sports science. “Sprinters he has run against, such as Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, take about 45 steps; Bolt takes 41,” according to Matthew Taylor, a sports scientist at the University of Essex. At 6'5", Bolt
defies what gym teachers said about the only successful sprinters being short guys with tree-trunk thighs. If that phys-ed lore seems arcane, so does the screwy math saying that Bolt will hit 9.4. Those believing this 9.4 date with destiny base their unbounded optimism on his long strides making him similar to the world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah. Yes math geeks—but he runs 28 mph; Cheetahs hit 70.
Bolt broke his own 2008 Beijing time of 9.69 in the 100-meter with a 9.63 in London, in what was billed as “the greatest footrace in history,” a proclamation born out as seven of eight contestants finished in less than 10 seconds. He defended his medals in the 200-meter and in the 4-by-100 relay, setting a world record with a time of 36.84 seconds.
13. New Jersey Devils
Three Bits of Silver
With a defeat of Detroit in the 1995 finals, the Devils crowed at their cross-Hudson rival that the cup had migrated from “the Garden to the Garden State.” New Jersey showed true grit, recording 11 road victories in one playoff season.
After four years of playoff frustrations, owner Lou Lamoriello wanted more consistent results and made the gutsy move of replacing Coach Robbie Ftorek with assistant Larry Robinson in 2000. It worked: their 1995 core four of Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, and Bobby Holik remained, but newcomers—including Patrik Elias, Petr Sykora, Jason Arnott, and Alexander Mogilny—helped them recapture the cup against Dallas.
When they beat Anaheim in 2003, five Devils could claim they played on all three: Brodeur, Stevens, Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko, and Sergei Brylin.
The Curse Slain in 2004
If an event is the first in your lifetime—not to mention your parents’ or grandparents' lifetime—then it has riveting potential. Since the Red Sox had last won a Series in 1918, the 85 years of futility that followed were beyond galling, especially given the playoff failures from 1948 to 2003 and seven-game World Series lost in 1946, 1967, 1975, and 1986.
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