Friday, December 5, 2008

Michael Phelps: Where's the encore ?

To the surprise of no one, Michael Phelps was named the 2008 Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. Sports Illustrated has taken varied approaches to its selections. Sometimes the award is more of a "lifetime achievement award" - it goes to someone who surely was considered multiple times and wins it as a crowning achievement; Brett Favre, Cal Ripken, John Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are in this category. And then there are those who are chosen more for their impact off the playing field; 1987's "Athletes Who Care," Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King come to mind. And often, as this year, the award goes to a young athlete who does something truly extraordinary in a single year; Phelps, Dwayne Wade, Steve Cauthen, and the first winner, Roger Bannister are in this category. What is impressive is how many of the winners go on to lead impactful lives after their playing days are over. So this week, while we dutifully published yet another bio piece about Michael Phelps, we also presented articles about four former winners whose post-athletic achievements were at least as amazing as their athletic feats. Rafer Johnson was the world's greatest athlete, winning the Olympic Decathlon in Rome in 1960, but, as our article reports, he has trumped that with many decades of involvement in global youth groups. Peter Ueberroth once said "If you made a list of the ten top role models for young men in America, I don’t know who the other nine would be, but Rafer would be one of them." Then there is our article on Arthur Ashe, who helped end apartheid in South Africa; he spoke of his own life in these words: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” We also wrote about running legend Kip Keino, whose foundation has created the Kenyan long distance running dynasty but also supports a school and orphanage; and we wrote about Roger Bannister, who, not content to merely be the first human to break a four minute mile, went on to become a highly regarded neurologist. For now, Michael Phelps is known for swimming faster than any man ever has, and a 13,000 calorie a day diet. Let's hope he follows in the footsteps of these remarkable men to one day be known for so much more.

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