By Paul M. Banks
Believe it or not, this weekendâ€™s edition of Saturday Night Live will actually be hosted by a swimmer. Not just any swimmer, but record setting Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps. The show ends a week where Phelps presented at the MTV Video Music Awards and did a guest appearance on HBOâ€™s â€œEntourage.â€ Wow! How things have changed for swimming in just seven years. In 2001, my collegiate newspaper editor shot down my attempt to publish a column on swimming. I mentioned how Ian Thorpe (to which my boss responded â€œwho?â€) was dominating the sport in a way that few stars ever had. I also reminded him that this was â€œThe Summer of the Shark,â€ as Time magazine proclaimed it. I tried to sell him on the fact that the mediaâ€™s over-sensationalizing of the just slightly higher than average number of shark attacks that summer would get people greatly interested in creatures of the water. He didnâ€™t bite.
In 2008 however, people look at swimmers quite differently. To quote Peter Christian, a writer for my website The Sports Bank.net, â€œFew people can debate that the 2008 Olympics will mainly be remembered as the Summer Games when swimming was the most important: thing on TV, topic at work and event to schedule your evening plans around. Michael Phelps owned NBC, Beijing and the Water Cube for 8 days.â€ I couldnâ€™t agree more. Heâ€™s done for swimming what Tiger Woods did for golf and Michael Jordan achieved for basketball. Heâ€™s a big reason for the change I witnessed upon swimming my laps at the public pool in August.
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