Thorpe Says Phelps Will Not Win Pieces Of Eight
Craig Lord
The retired Australian Olympic champion does not believe that the American can go one gold medal beyond Mark Spitz in Beijing - though he adds a rider: 'but, mind you, if there is any person on the planet who is capable, it is him'

Retired Australian Olympic champion Ian Thorpe does not believe that Michael Phelps (USA) can go one gold medal further than the record [Mark] Spitzean Seven in Beijing, though he adds a rider to his comments today: 'but, mind you, if there is any person on the planet who is capable, it is him'.

Spitz won seven gold medals, four in solo events and all seven in world-record time, at the 1972 Olympic Games. To go beyond that would take eight victories and would rely on three USA quartets - and if that magnificence unfolds, it is highly doubtful that every one of those efforts would produce a world record.

Thorpe told Fox News: 'I have said I don't think he will win eight gold medals. I don't think he will ... I just don't think it will happen.'

His comments have been interpreted in some quarters as being sour. They are, in fact, anything but. Thorpe is simply reflecting, from the position of one who has won multiple medals at the biggest of events, the enormity of the task faced by Phelps.

The Aussie great noted that Phelps was no longer quite as dominant in some events, such as medley. The advance of Ryan Lochte, the prospect of a full-tilt Ian Crocker are just two obstacles for Phelps.

'You've got to look at each of his individual races, he's up against incredible competition at the moment,' said Thorpe. 'Even some of his events that he has always been stronger in or had distance on his competitors, like the 200m IM, that distance isn't there any more. It's going to be really tough. I wish him all the best to do it because I would love to see it happen in Beijing. I'm sure everyone else would as well.'

Such comments from Thorpe and others in the past have fed Phelp's burning ambition. Not long now before what-will-be unfolds before our eyes in China. Phelps will race the same schedule as he did in Athens, 2004: 200m freestyle, 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m and 400m individual medley, and three relays (some of which may be heat swims, depending on his solo efforts and his mood).

If Phelps matches the seven golds in the same ratio of solo:relay events, Spitz will still have the edge if the pretender to the Olympic record of records falls shy of world-record pace in any one of his events. Not that Phelps and coach Bob Bowman look at the world in those terms, it should be noted. This game belongs to the rest of us. What is more certain than the seven or eight golds possible is that Phelps will provide us all with a thrilling spectacle that looks set to be one of the greatest sporting performances of all-time.