Has there ever been an Olympian greater than Michael Phelps? No, not really. The American fish-man picked up multiple new gold medals at the Rio Olympics, coming out of retirement to end the coronation of the Next Generation of world-class swimmers…except for Simone Manuel, who is currently experiencing what it feels like to be seen as a certified superhero.
Back to Phelps. How do we know he’s the best? Well, Phelps recently broke a record that stood since 152 BC. Leonidas of Rhodes won 12 individual medals in the Games. Phelps just picked up lucky number 13 individual medals, to add to 22 total golds and 26 medals overall.
The success in the pool will win Phelps legions of fans, including up and coming American swimmer Katie Ledecky, who has “liked Mike” since she was a guppy. Phelps will also pick up even more – and likely richer – endorsement deals for this showing. But that’s not all the fame Michael Phelps won at this year’s Olympics.
Chances are, if you’ve seen Michael Phelps’s face lately, it’s been involved in a meme. The swimmer’s All Business expression prior to last week’s match against a jitterbugging South African rival has become an internet sensation. Forget the Wheaties box. Becoming a meme subject is the New Fame in Millennial World. And it lasts a lot longer than 15 minutes.
The meme popularity just adds to another factor of Phelps’s success. He’s relatable. He has an everyman face and seems a bit awkward in front of the camera. That makes him endearing, while his accomplishments make him feel superhuman. It’s an interesting and dichotomous complement. Phelps is both what everyone aspires to be and what most already are. Both talented and average. Hopeful and committed.
Phelps’s fame has made a huge difference not just for Phelps but for U.S. swimming in general. There’s more money flowing into the sport and thus more opportunity for American kids to get off the couch and get into the pool.