Comment: Janet Evans views proceedings at a distance; Matt Biondi blogs from his bedroom; the creation of a FINA Olympic Champions Club is long overdue
Ok, so here's what happened in and out of the Water Cube. Janet Evans buys her own ticket and the only one that's left is in the gods way up high over the diving pit. A historymaker watches history unfold through binoculars. She's the lucky one: Matt Biondi - remember him, the one with the seven medals in 1988, five of them gold, Spitz's nearest challenger until the advent of Michael - is in his bedroom in downtown Beijing blogging off a television screen.
Those are just two examples. And all the while the front few rows below the media stands are stacked with people who popped in to get a peek of Michael before prancing off to pose in another hot-spot moment of the Games. Jacques Rogge is a busy man but it took until Phelps's medley relay and eighth gold for the head honcho of the IOC to pay a visit to the pool and then he didn't see fit to make it his duty to get his feet wet on the deck to go shake the hand of the greatest Olympian of all time. Tradition, schedules, political toes. No idea what explanation the IOC might have for it. Don't really care to know either. If the President of the greatest sports show on Earth can't say, "I'm coming down to shake this young man's hand in full public gaze", then who can. There are moments not to be missed. That was one of them. Unlike Michael, Jacques was left wanting in his preparation for a pivotal, gate-crashing moment in world sport.
The night before, Rogge turned up for 10mins at FINA's 100th years celebration gala dinner. It was good to see many unsung heroes enjoying a well-deserved meal and toast. It would have been good to see the heroes who made it all possible: where were Spitz, Gould, Meyer and many more. Where was Greta Andersen - 100m free champ for Denmark in 1948 and still on the deck over in the US. Now that would have been a great thing to see: Andersen presented with a bouquet by Rogge. No chance of that. No invitation. And the man who was invited, Rogge, didn't bother to sit down with FINA to toast 100 years of excellence in aquatic sports. He gave a speech and left. 10 minutes. Pity. Such moments don't come round that often.
I bumped into the great Donna de Varona, she who took medley well beyond where any woman had been before and put swimming on the covers of some of the world's leading publications, doing decades ago for the sport what Phelps hopes to do now. All the above have been very fine ambassadors for swimming for many a long year. De Varona got some tickets and gave them to Speedo to hand out to parents who were struggling to get in to see the result of years of dedication. We trust that Speedo used its largesse wisely.
This kind of thing happens every four years. Time for change. Time for the creation of the FINA Olympic Champion's Club. A block of 30 seats, minimum, needs to be set aside at every major event at world level, access to which requires an Olympic gold medal - guest passes available to coaches who also deserve recognition. And where those who have thrilled us in bygone years are present, they should be introduced to the crowd at the start of every session. The present and the future are nothing without the past.
At the 2007 gala dinner of ISHOF in 2007, when 100 years of women’s swimming history was celebrated, De Varona said: "100 years of women in swimming. Our history is rich not only for the world records and Olympic medals won but for the men and women who have through their dedication inspired excellence, forged social change, fought for fairness, and created a network of individuals worldwide who are dedicated to making a difference in a world constantly seeking common ground.
"Time, place and circumstance are the gifts to our talents. Great coaching and the opportunity to share the water with others who are as passionate and dedicated has made water sports a cornerstone for all the world and especially the Olympics. NBC would have a very difficult time with those ratings if the Games didn't start out with swimming.
"Those of us who have made it to the top of the victory stand know that we didn't do it alone. A rival is just as important as a coach. However, when the fierce days of competition are over, it is the friendships forged through mutual respect that count the most."
There should be a hallowed place in the stands for such people. FINA: time to make that Olympic champion's club official. Time to honour those who have made the world of swimming the spectacular show it is.