Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pictures of the Year

Over at the Big Picture, they are starting their annual posts with their selected pictures of the year. I encourage you to take a look. These pictures cover a wide range of international events, from celebrations to disasters. I value their international perspective at this photo blog. 

Part I

Part II

They usually do three parts, but only two are up at this point. 

There is also Time's selection of the most surprising photos of the year. These are amazing as well, although there are some repeats from the Big Picture's posts. Also, unlike the Big Picture, Time doesn't warn you when you are about to see a graphic picture of (just one example here) a horse head and hoofs on the ground by some kids because the horse was just slaughtered for food. 

Time's gallery.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Making Fun of Instagrammers

CollegeHumor made a music video making fun of Instagrammers and their pretty horrible pictures. Disclaimer, I use Instagram and I've definitely shared a shot of a sunset or two, but for the most part, I think CollegeHumor gets it right with this video. Most of Instagram shots are crap or depressingly narcissistic. Follow the link below and watch the video.

Making fun of Instagrammers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Royal Crush

I was watching the NBC Nightly News last night and the time NBC devoted to each of its stories in the first thirteen minutes of the broadcast caught my attention. First of all, all the news that is worth reporting is typically included in the first 10-12 minutes of a nightly news broadcast. The latter half of the broadcast is typically saved for feel-good stories, the weekend box-office report, minor weather-related disasters, etc. The shows are naturally front-loaded and one can typically tune out after the first or second commercial break. 

After watching six minutes of last night's broadcast, NBC had covered the impending flu season, Syria, and the approaching fiscal cliff. The fourth story of the night was about William and Kate expecting a baby. NBC devoted 4 minutes to this story. They even had an expert on to talk about the symptoms Kate would be dealing with in this case of acute morning sickness (inability to keep down any food/fluids, throwing up, etc.)

Let's just break down last night's newscast:

Story 1: The flu season is going to be bad. This story airs every year. Spare us next year, will you? - 2 minutes

Story 2: There are human rights atrocities constantly taking place in Syria right now. To be honest, it's genocide. Bashar Assad continues to oversee the destruction of huge swaths of the country and people he is responsible for. Thousands of children have died. There is no distinction made between combatant and non-combatant. When Assad's forces are on the hunt all are in the crosshairs - 1 minute

Story 3: Politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to be stubborn and selfish as the fiscal cliff nears. But let's just say it, the Republicans need to do a little pride-swallowing. The majority of the country clearly favors increasing tax revenue by raising tax rates on the top 2% income earners. In this sense, Obama's reelection did give him a mandate to do just that, raise the rate on the super-rich. The negotiations, or lack thereof, continue with little or no progress. - 3 minutes

Story 4: Duchess Kate is pregnant. She went to hospital, where she remains to this day. She has acute morning sickness, the same exact acute morning sickness thousands of women get every day, just in this country. So, what's the story here? - 4 MINUTES

Story 5: Dangerous carbon monoxide levels at a school threatens hundreds of children and staff. - 1 minute

Story 6: More proof that America's favorite sport is increasingly more dangerous and harmful to the body, particularly the brain, of football players, leading to very early diagnoses of degenerative brain diseases. - 3 minutes

Boiled down even more:

Flu season - 2 minutes

Genocide - 1 minute

We are all screwed if this fiscal cliff thing isn't resolved - 3 minutes

Girl who was born and married rich dude who was also born gets a bad case of morning sickness - 4 minutes

Potentially lethal carbon monoxide levels at school. - 1 minute

Nation's pastime making football players die early. - 3 minutes

Bad case of morning sickness trumps flu season, genocide, fiscal cliff, carbon monoxide levels, and pretty conclusive research on degenerative brain diseases. Excuse me, I'm going to go throw up.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Fighting Resistance

A great friend and amazing photographer, family man, and God-lover, Jarrod Renaud, was interviewed by The Photographic Journal. Read his story. It's inspiring. 

The interview, click here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012



2008 and 2012


The major changes so far, my TV is much, much larger and I've added an iPad. I'm drinking wine, beer, and margarita. And in the 2008 picture, my MacBook Pro was just weeks old.

Do Not Miss This...Hilarious

Do you want to lighten up your day and have a laugh at the expense of everyone in the race this election day? Then don't miss The Onion's live updates on Election 2012

My favorites so far:
Paul Ryan Spending Final Day Of Campaign Reminding Homeless People They Did This To Themselves 
Poll Workers Overhear Biden Repeating Phrase 'Banged Her' While Reading Names On Ballot

Monday, November 05, 2012

Election Eve 2012

I have really missed being able to blog about this election season. The other day I looked back at how many blogs I was writing in 2008. It was a lot. On average 28-33 blogs per month leading up to and during the month of the election. 

I just went back and looked at my election live-blogging from 2008. I don't think I will be doing the same tomorrow, as I don't have the kind of audience that I did four years ago. Nor do I think I'll have much to say, but we'll see about that. 

I haven't read the live-blog from 2008 since, well, November of 2008, so there were definitely things I forgot about. Like this:
7:15pm - A CNN correspondent at the McCain celebration in Arizona says, "It is a much different mood here." Yeah, like a funeral. 
8:23pm - MSNBC calling Ohio for Obama. Self-protective denial is wearing very, very thin. And with that, Josh Marshall isn't live blogging anymore. He is "F--k Ya Blogging". Priceless. 
8:59pm - Via TPM, the Rocky Mountain News calling Colorado for Obama. [Remember the Rocky Mountain News?] 
9:23pm - The shots of Grant Park are extraordinary. I'm a little nervous about such a huge celebration. I hope people are smart and safe. I hope Obama is safe. Meanwhile in Arizona, it looks like a singalong for McCain fans. 
9:50pm - Fox calls Virginia for Obama. 10 minutes out from calling the whole race? Possibly. Tap the keg. Sullivan writes, "You drinking yet? Stupid question." 
10:00pm - Called it for OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! OBAMA! I can't believe Americans just did that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
11:19pm - I've said all I can say at this point. What a night. What a night. All is not wasted. Goodnight.
I think what's clear about the election this year, is that we probably won't have the race called by 9pm Mountain Time, like it was in 2008. I have a busy day on Wednesday so I am not prepared to stay up very late tomorrow. I might have to call it quits at midnight if nothing has been called by then. But, if Obama would somehow manage to win Florida and Virginia or Florida and N.C., the race could easily be called by 9pm. However, that's extremely unlikely to happen. Even if Obama manages a victory in Florida, it'll be too close to call tomorrow. At least that's my view. Nevertheless, I remain hopeful for a called race sometime tomorrow evening. I still think this is a possibility because of Obama's appearing to hold on to Ohio, PA, N.H., Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, and maybe Virginia. If his margin of victory is great enough in those states for them to be called blue tomorrow night, then Obama will get his four more years. 

To me, the choice couldn't be clearer tomorrow. If you paid attention from 2001-2008, what makes you think returning to those policies is a good idea? That's what a Romney presidency is, a return to the past. The economy was in free fall when Obama took over. We were losing approximately 750,000 jobs a month at the time Obama moved into the White House. It took him some time, but he started to reverse that trend and he still is. It's a slow recovery and I understand some of the frustration out there. But I don't understand American impatience with the recovery. This impatience signals to me that these people never grasped the severity of the economic crisis. I generally don't understand American impatience with nearly everything anyways, but when it comes to the idea of just returning to the same old policies because four years of different policies haven't dug the country out of the deepest economic abyss it has seen since the 1930s is preposterous. This is to say nothing of Obama's other accomplishments like the Affordable Care Act (which actually does insure 30 million people who otherwise wouldn't have health insurance and who won't if Romney is elected and successfully repeals ACA, don't believe me? look it up), ending our atrocious, misguided war in Iraq, and concentrating on the only one that mattered and putting it to an end in Afghanistan, and killing Osama Bin Laden (something Bush had lost sight of ever since his obsession with Iraq truly took ahold of him in the wake of 9/11). 

I have never believed in a President who is going to solve all of your problems. No such President exists. And I think too much of America doesn't know that, which is certainly a contributing factor to the impatience I referenced above. However, I truly believe that there is an honest, caring man in Obama who cares for the greatest number of Americans, far more than Romney does. And because of this I am not choosing the lesser of two evils. 

I voted early last Friday for the man who has expressed deep and passionate concern for working-class Americans and their plight, who actually has the guts to ask for a tax increase for the very wealthiest in the country. If I was in that "wealthiest" category I would gladly accept the tax increase, but I'm not, and I don't feel bad for anyone in that tax bracket who would be asked to pay 3-4% more. 

I still believe in Obama. I don't believe a vote for Obama means a vote against America, but that's exactly the meme that the Right has pushed over the last two years of campaigning. This idea that America is becoming un-American, that our opportunities are slipping through our fingers, and that Romney represents the "true" American spirit is simply vacuous. 

I am hopeful for tomorrow and I believe there is clearly a right and a wrong choice on the ballot. I hope America makes the right one.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Sandy Effect

Hurricane Sandy, the real reason behind an Obama victory on Tuesday, at least, according to Karl Rove and pals.

Money quote:

Days ago Dick Morris predicted a 400+ EV Romney landslide. Now he thinks Sandy may undo Romney.

Read the rest on TPM.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

FDR and the Republican Strategy

This isn't the first time FDR has blown my mind, but this may be one of the best quotes I have ever heard from him. It's exactly what we are hearing from Mitt Romney right now, the new, supposedly-moderate Romney, who campaigns on cutting government spending, getting rid of tax loopholes, and lowering tax rates by 20%. But Romney also refuses to elaborate on what government programs he will eliminate, he wants to build even more warships and submarines than we currently have, he doesn't elaborate on tax loopholes he will be eliminating, and he is not going to touch the current social welfare programs we have. The problem is, well, FDR will explain...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

MSNBC, The Lumineers, and Mr. Potato...head?

Here are a few DU Debate Fest pictures from yesterday.

I'm not enforcing stereotypes here, but she was wearing an NRA hat.

Next door to the Romney table.

Mr. Potato Head....wait a minute.

Readying for Obama's arrival.

Secret Service and security taking some pictures before the Debate Fest gates open.

Martin Bashir broadcasting from DU, right in front of the Mary Reed Building.

Chris Matthews

More talking to cameras. I can't be the only one that always thinks of Bashir's interview with Michael Jackson when I see him. It's a classic. Here's the interview.

Let's play hardball!

The Lumineers put on an excellent show. 

A bass drum like the sun.

Mark Koebrich of 9News recording a segment during the Lumineers' concert.


The Tale of the Tables

Here are two awesome photos from yesterday's debate. I stood right between these two tables and took a picture of the Romney table, turned around, and took a picture of the Obama table. 

DU Debate Reaction

When you really believe in the majority of a politician's policies, when you know that they are going to be better for this country than the other politician, when you just really like someone over the alternative, it really sucks to see them lose a debate. Obama is my candidate, always has been. I firmly believe his interests align with a much broader swath of Americans than the interests of Romney. But Romney won the debate last night. Pretty solidly too. 

It's been written about Obama that he is not very confrontational. It's not that Obama doesn't lash out and call someone out, but it's that he takes so long to do so. So when Romney presented himself as a candidate vested in all of our interests, a candidate who says he is going to balance the budget by reducing taxes by 10% and cutting government spending, and as a candidate who believes in a fair tax system, Obama was slow to react or didn't react at all. This hurt Obama. He was probably caught off-guard by Romney's shifting positions and blatant lies too. Obama looked down a lot. He scribbled on his notepad. He didn't maintain eye contact with Romney. He had a hint of a smile at all the wrong times. He didn't interrupt. He was polite at a time he should have been confrontational with Romney. He was silent, when he should have asked why Romney pays a lower tax rate than those people cleaning the White House? He should have mentioned his Jobs Act that could have created more jobs for Americans. He should have pressed Romney on his government spending cuts. What are you going to cut, Romney? I mean, besides getting rid of PBS and Sesame Street, what else are you going to cut? He should have asked Romney why another massive tax cut is the right policy when government revenues from taxes are at a 50-year low?

Obama just wasn't on his game last night. And since the majority of Americans aren't going to FACT CHECK this debate, it will be taken at face value, which equals a win for Romney. If the election were held tomorrow, there's no doubt in my mind that Obama would win. His poor performance last night hasn't and will not cost him the election. It would take two more equally poor performances from Obama to do that. I guarantee that Obama is going to come out swinging in the next debate. Well, he has too. But I think he will because he is a fighter. When pushed to the edge he can reach that level of bluntness bordering on rude that is sometimes necessary to control a debate. I am much more interested in the other two debates now, but I sure wish Obama had won the debate at DU. 

And one last thing, the real loser of the debate last night was Jim Lehrer. What an awful moderator! He didn't keep either man on topic. He let Obama talk four minutes longer than Romney. He was owned by Romney, who just kept rolling over Lehrer's attempts at moving the debate onward. He seemed ancient, off his game, and outmatched. And he'll lose his job if Romney becomes president. Well, at the very least, he needs to lose his job of moderating presidential debates. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

DU Debate Debacle

For almost eight years, this blog has been a place for me to share stories, articulate my opinion, post pictures, post video, and to share what little fiction I have written. Today it serves one of its most important purposes, that is, a place for me to vent my frustrations. The topic: the first presidential debate at the University of Denver (where I currently am in graduate school), happening tomorrow (if you've been living in a hole in the ground). 

When I first heard of DU hosting the debate, I was excited and happy for the university and its students. Now I know the error of my thinking, that the debate is brought to a university to expose the most important people on campus, the students, to a historic moment in the election season is what I thought this was going to be. Having never been on a campus that hosted a presidential debate, I didn't know any better. But a few months ago as signs started to appear all over campus about impending closures, event cancellations/rescheduling, and class cancellation for October 3rd, I began to have my doubts.

Now, one day away from the event, it is clearer than ever that the debate is not, and has never been handled as an event, to benefit the students. Reported this morning on the local news, Magness Arena, in the Richie Center, is going to hold 1000 debate spectators. DU students will occupy approximately 92 of those seats. The students lucky enough to attend were picked in a lottery yesterday morning. All students and 2012 graduates of DU were automatically entered into the lottery. Knowing full well that only a small section of the student body would be able to attend the debate, DU designed an on-campus watch party called Debate Fest. The initial introduction to Debate Fest was an email that called the party a ticketed event available only to DU students, faculty, and those living near the campus in the university hills neighborhood. An email invited people to register and reserve their spot for Debate Fest, where they could enjoy the festivities, feast from Denver's best food trucks, and enjoy a show from The Lumineers, who will play prior to the debate. I, along with hundreds more, registered for the event. Shortly after registration opened, Debate Fest reached capacity. This should not have been surprising to anyone, but it seemed to have surprised DU. 

Yesterday, DU re-opened Debate Fest registration. It once again closed shortly thereafter due to the remaining spots being filled up. Then, last night, DU sent out an email with tips for Debate Fest. Here, I highlight point number three from the email:
3.) Please note that registration does NOT guarantee entrance to DebateFest. The number of people admitted to the event will be limited based on space constraints due to fire laws. We recommend that you arrive early.
What this means is that any student or faculty member or neighborhood resident can show up as early as they want tomorrow and get in line for Debate Fest. The doors open at 3pm and space is now on a first come, first served basis, thus guaranteeing that many of those that did register for the event (read: students) will be denied entrance to their campus and "their" debate. There are many reasons why this is frustrating. To mention one, I am a graduate student. I have reading to do tomorrow. I can't devote my entire morning to standing in line for a party I am not even sure will be a good place to watch the debate from. My plan was to walk over at 3pm, stand in a short line, have my name scratched off a list because I registered for the event, and then walk inside. I am one of many students who planned to do that tomorrow. 

The DU Presidential Debate is for DU administration, big-time DU donors, and the press. It is not for the students, nor is it for the Denver community or undecided voters. By yesterday, campus was crawling with members of the media from all over the world, while fences continued to sprout up everywhere to keep the students away from the most important, high-profile event that will ever happen on their campus. This event is a sham and it is embarrassing how DU has handled it from the start. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book: The Myth of Religious Violence

I just heard a great talk on the myth of religious violence by William Cavanaugh. In his talk, Cavanaugh had intriguing and fresh takedowns of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, both of whom have written extensively on the maddening numbers of people killed in the name of religion and for their own personal disgust at the idea of believing in a God or following a religion. 

Cavanaugh's argument is that religion means many different things to many different people and Hitchens and Harris choose selectively between what they deem a religious movement and what they label a secular movement. Essentially, their use of the terms boils down to what they truly like and don't like. Both of the authors, and many who have written in the same vein, like to reference the millions of people who have been killed throughout human history in the name of religion. In response to this, Cavanaugh rightly points out that until the modern era there was no separation of religion and politics. The thought of religion separate from politics was as foreign as the idea of religious freedom and free speech to the crowds rioting in the Middle East over the past two weeks. Every war prior to the modern era could be said to be a form or religious violence, because even following your Caesar (who was considered a god) into war was a religious action. Then, even fighting for the atheistic Lenin regime was, in this sense, a religio-political action. 

Cavanaugh shared a number of great quotes, but I wrote one down from St. Augustine on the idea of religion, "We have no right to affirm with confidence that religion (religio) is confined to the worship of God, since it seems that this word has been detached from its normal meaning, in which it refers to an attitude of respect in relations between a man and his neighbor."

Cavanaugh's talk was based on his book of the same name, The Myth of Religious Violence. Check it out at the library or buy it. As a believer in and follower of Christ, it was extremely refreshing to hear an articulate, academic rebuttal of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris that is appreciative of religion and doesn't speak of it as the underlying motivator for all conflicts from the present day to the beginning of human history. Thank you, Professor Cavanaugh. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Watch Out

If you can't tell, classes at DU have started once again and I don't really have much time to blog, but I do intend to post pictures from my trip to London and Scotland this summer. For now, here's another video. I took this on our way back into London from visiting Windsor Castle. It's a very short video, but it shows the incredible speed of the trains that pass through stations at which they obviously aren't scheduled to stop at. It seems extremely dangerous, but it does make for some good pictures too. I'll get around to posting those eventually. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012


You wouldn't know it, but there's a Paralympics going on in London right now. It's sort of a big deal....for the rest of the world. NBC has the rights in the US to the Paralympics and I read somewhere that they plan on broadcasting 5.5 hours of coverage from the entire 10-12 days of the Paralympics. My thought, is this a joke? Apparently it isn't. Fear not, a quick internet search came up with the Paralympic Sport channel on YouTube. You can watch every event commercial free. I'm glad some countries in the western world value showing these athletes as much as they value showing able-bodied athletes. 

Here's the link:

London to Edinburgh

30 seconds of our train ride from London to Edinburgh. August 20, 2012.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Londoners Read

Newspapers sometimes appear to be a dying species in America. The Internet has consumed ad revenue, much of which was traditionally the domain of newspapers, but not anymore. In addition, Americans don’t consume newspapers like they used to. It seems many have abandoned reading altogether. That may be true for some, but most are consuming their news in paragraphs instead of pages or whole newspapers. Mobile devices are now the source of most news, with their convenience and shortened web-version of articles. In fact, the longer version just doesn’t exist anymore. Now, the news needs to be reported at such a quick rate in order to be relevant that long-form journalism is hard to find. In a lot of cases, one has to wait for the Sunday newspaper to read an article that actually is thorough enough to be classified as reporting.

Often it just seems like newspapers are not going to last. I don’t see that many people reading them anymore. The rack of papers at Starbucks is full in the late afternoon. And I can get The New York Times for free every weekday on DU’s campus and I feel like I am one of the few students in my program who actually takes advantage of this.

That is why it is so refreshing to arrive in London and see people voraciously consuming the news in print. There are several major newspapers in London. I can think of The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Evening Standard, The Sun, and the free Metro just off the top of my head right now. I should add that the Standard is free as well.

The few times we were on the tube during rush hour, especially in the morning, everyone was reading something. It is just so great to see. Even if they were reading The Sun or a tabloid, I was happy for them, proud that there is a metropolis in which print is surviving. Even in the UK, despite their huge scandals in the last year concerning phone and email hacking, the paper industry is still significant enough to have several papers competing against each other, something you could only remotely say about these US cities: NYC, Chicago, D.C., and Los Angeles.

I brought home a copy of The Guardian (my favorite paper in the UK) and The Times. I will finish reading them cover to cover and then I probably won’t throw them away. I feel they are my best souvenirs from across the pond, where, as if under a wonderful spell, people still pay attention to original reporting. In stark contrast, the Huffington Post is popular in America. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The. Greatest. Ever.

My first memory of Michael Phelps was his swim at the 2000 Sydney games. I was 17-years-old at the time and just in the beginning of the stage of my own swimming career that could be called serious. I had heard of Phelps before Sydney, but just whispers and rumors about a teenage phenomenon in Baltimore. Watching him compete in Australia at age 15 was inspirational to a whole generation. I remember acknowledging that he had made the finals and how great an accomplishment that was. It was impossible to watch and not think about what the future held for this boy.

2004 US Swimming Olympic Trials

As the 2004 Olympic Trials approached, I eagerly anticipated Phelps’ swims, but also the 200m breaststroke, in which my good friend and college roommate (Scott Usher) was competing in. At the time, my parents were still on dial-up and so I couldn’t watch the live stream from Long Beach. The internet was just fast enough to take advantage of Omega’s live timing page. Swimmers were represented by a bar moving back and forth across the screen in their respective lane. The bar didn’t move smoothly, rather it updated every few seconds and the line would jump ahead to wherever that swimmer was in the 50-meter-long pool.

Usher had great prelim swims and he had a good lane for the final that night. He was off to a good start, but lagged a little in the middle 100m as some veterans edged closer to him, but I knew Usher’s last 50m was exceptional and so I waited and waited, staring at the bar, cursing dial-up. When the race finished there was a delay before the final splits came up and one could see how each swimmer finished. It was much different from today when you can instantly see who finished in medal positions as graphics unfold in each lane of the competitors who finished in medal positions. The graphics will even tell you whether or not those swimmers set a new Olympic record (OR) or a world record (WR).

I was still waiting. Finally, I saw the splits. Usher had the fastest last 50m of the entire field, including Brendan Hansen, who had finished first and, in the process, also set the WR (2:09.04). Usher clocked a 2:10.90, good enough for second and a spot on the Olympic team. The next fastest swimmer swam a 2:13.82. To say I did a double take is an understatement. I confirmed the results, then reconfirmed, then again. And then I screamed. I jumped. I ran out of the room. One of my best friends had just become an Olympian. I called our coach at the time, who was on deck in Long Beach, and I spoke with Usher just minutes after his race. He was ecstatic, to say the least, and I couldn’t believe what I just saw over amazingly slow dial-up.

My next realization was that Usher was going to meet Michael Phelps, train with him, and go to an Olympic games with him. That this was what I thought about second to Usher actually making the team is testament to how big of a deal Phelps had already become. He hadn’t won a thing yet on swimming’s grandest stage, but the swimming world knew he was on the cusp of a medal-winning Olympic career due to amazing appearances at world championship meets such as Worlds 2003 in Barcelona, in which he crushed the field in the 200 IM, beating Ian Thorpe, and breaking the WR. He was 18-years-old at the time.

The Run-up to Athens

Leading up to the Athens games the swimming world was abuzz. With Phelps swimming the 200m free he would encounter two giants of the swimming world, Pieter van den Hoogenband, the legendary Dutch sprinter who is the only male swimmer to final in the 100m free in four consecutive Olympics, and, of course, Ian Thorpe, the Australian phenomenon who had been a star since he was 15-years-old. The showdown was set.

However, the American media had a different focus. They were obsessed with the magical number of Phelps’ swims at the Athens games: 8. A possible eight gold medals meant Phelps had the opportunity to surpass Mark Spitz and become the most decorated Olympian (from one Olympics) of all time. Given Phelps meet lineup for Athens, which included the aforementioned 200m free, a race Phelps was insistent upon swimming, eight gold medals was out of the question for anyone who knew anything about swimming. But, since the people at NBC don’t know much about swimming, besides Rowdy Gaines, this wasn’t discussed much. Instead the focus was on Phelps tying and possibly breaking Spitz’s record. It is safe to say that NBC had genuine interest in Phelps’ promising career, but they also ran with the seven-or-eight-gold-medals story in hopes that it would pique interest in the games and in turn drive up advertising revenue and ratings. All this despite the facts that Phelps was 19 at the time and up against two veterans in the 200m free who were not yet ready to relinquish their hold on the podium.

Athens 2004

The unrealistic expectations aside, Phelps’ performance in Athens was astonishing and a joy to watch. He won gold in four individual events. In the 100m butterfly, Phelps ran down teammate Ian Crocker in the last five meters, setting the tone for Phelps’ future 100m butterfly races. The 200m butterfly wasn’t as close. Phelps won by an arm length. In the 200m and the 400m individual medleys (IMs), it wasn’t close and Phelps broke the OR in the 200m IM and the WR in the 400m IM. He was also a member of the 4x200m free relay team and the 4x100m medley relay team, both of which took gold. In the 4x100m free relay, Phelps and his teammates finished third, which wasn’t a bad performance, but it meant eight gold medals was out of the question. This affected NBC more than Phelps.

And in what was deemed “the race of the century” by the swimming world, Phelps finished third to van den Hoogenband and Thorpe, but Phelps was pleased with the finish despite NBC’s displeasure that the poster boy of their Olympic coverage had to settle for a possible six gold medals instead of seven. After the 200m free, Phelps said, “How can I be disappointed? I swam in a field with the two fastest freestylers of all time.”

Phelps had tied another of Spitz’s lesser known records by winning four individual events at the same Olympics, last achieved by the mustachioed man in the 1972 Munich games. Phelps left his first Olympic games with six gold medals and two bronze medals. Although he may not have had his sights set on eight gold medals, Athens made it evident that for him to achieve eight golds in one games was possible, but it also hinged on a little luck and incredible performances by his relay teammates. In the media, Phelps’ performance was reported as a huge success, but also suggested by some that Athens was a bit of a letdown for Phelps. But he was 19 at the time and was certainly not at his peak yet. When the games ended, I was in awe of what he had done and already excited for Beijing, knowing that if anyone had the chance of tying and then beating Spitz’s record, it was Phelps and his one shot to do it was Beijing in 2008.

My Senior Year and Olympian Roommate

In August 2004, I arrived in Laramie for my senior year at the University of Wyoming and my last year of competitive swimming. My other roommate and I were awaiting Usher’s return to Wyoming. In what was truly the biggest stage he had competed on so far, Usher finished seventh in the 200m breaststroke in Athens. He couldn’t match the speed of his Long Beach performance, which would stand as the fourth fastest time in the world in 2004, but he was an Olympian and he had final-ed in the biggest swim meet there is. To see him again and to know the things he had experienced and the people he had met was a weird moment. I knew such an experience would surely change a person, but I wasn’t immediately aware of how it changed Usher. He brought gifts home for his two roommates. I received a few of his Olympic caps with the flag on them and ‘USHER’ displayed in bold lettering under the flag. He also gave me a vest that was worn by a German track athlete. He had traded for it. I love this vest and still wear it sometimes. But the coolest thing he brought home wasn’t for his roommates, but it was sort of for the apartment. He took it out and laid it out on the floor and carefully unfolded it. In and among the Olympic rings on this flag were the signatures of every USA swimmer from the 2004 Athens Olympics. Usher put it up on a wall in our living room. You couldn’t get better interior decorating. I pointed to Phelps’ signature in disbelief, still. So many greats had signed that flag. In one of the pictures Usher showed us, he stood with Phelps, just the two of them after a workout. Again, this was all amazing and the dominant though was that Usher was a teammate of Phelps, who you could argue was already one of the most successful Olympians of all time following the 2004 games.

The Run-up to Beijing

For the next four years Usher would travel all around the world and compete in the breaststroke events and swim on medley relays with Phelps. During this time it was widely reported that Phelps was training harder than ever and he was once again splashed across TV screens in Olympic promos and featured in every major magazine and newspaper in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic trials in Omaha, Nebraska, Usher’s backyard.

Usher too was going for another Olympic games. This time he had the home pool advantage and I was very confident in his chances. I followed the meet intently and between Phelps’ swims in six individual events, the race I paid the most attention too was the 200m breaststroke. In this event only the top two finishers make the Olympic team. Third place is the worst finish imaginable then. That’s precisely the spot Usher finished in. Later that summer he wound up swimming in that summer’s US Open, in which no one really wants to end up swimming in during Olympic years because it means you haven’t made the team. But in Usher’s case it was an opportunity to swim faster and to get a PR. He did exactly that; swimming a 2:10.67 and setting the US Open meet record in the process. I will never know the pain of finishing third at Olympic trials, but I have to think that the US Open swim was a bit of a personal redemption for Usher and a good way to go out.

I had a feeling that summer that Usher’s swimming career was coming to an end. I was disappointed I would no longer be able to see a friend in the water when I caught the next big international meet on TV. But collegiate swimming had made me aware of the commitment necessary to stay in peak performance. When all those hours and days committed to swimming fast don’t pay off in exactly the way you want them to, it is a trial to keep on training. And there comes a time when the reward is no longer the medal, but the retirement from the sport and a new freedom to move on with a life unencumbered by training six hours or more a day. Usher, I believe, had reached that point.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Phelps, who was bigger and faster than ever before. His goals, which he would only share with his coach, Bob Bowman, were assumed to include ‘win eight gold medals in Beijing,’ but when asked about that following his swims at the 2008 Olympic trials, Phelps merely said he wants to swim as fast as possible and that he has a month left to train for Beijing. He always has let his swimming do the talking. I appreciate this about Phelps. So many times the media tried to get him to talk about Spitz’s record and what Phelps thought of his chances at breaking it and so many times Phelps refused to give them what they wanted. Yet you knew every time he was training for Beijing that was in the back of his mind. He wanted to do something no swimmer had ever done before. He wanted to be the first. One can connect the dots.

Beijing 2008

Phelps started his Beijing games with an expected win in the 400m IM and a new WR. He also called it his last 400m IM in competition. As an aside, I think anyone who swims the 400m IM wants it to be their last one. As a sprinter, I am particularly afraid of this event. It is 100m of each stroke, starting with butterfly, then backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. A 100m butterfly is a difficult race, but to then face 300m afterward…No wonder Phelps wanted it be his last 400m IM and as we would find out four years later, it probably should have been. Nevertheless, it was a great opening for Phelps and it provided the necessary good vibes he would need to surpass Spitz, let alone tie him.

Phelps’ second performance was leading off the 4x100m free relay. Phelps’ lead off set a new American record in the 100m free. Behind to the French by a body length, anchor swimmer Jason Lezak (32-years-old at the time) did more than any other person throughout the Beijing games to keep Phelps on track. Lezak came back on Alain Bernard within the last five meters to beat the French and finish first. It was the fastest 100m split in history and the top five finishers in that race broke the old WR. Lezak’s swim was instantly legendary and its significance only grew as Phelps’ busy swim program continued. I watched it live and I was recording it as well. After watching it four or five times that night I sighed, turned the TV off, and went to bed saying amazing over and over again, and thinking it couldn’t get any closer for Phelps.

The next day’s coverage included the necessary recap of the historic 4x100m free relay. NBC played the last five meters of the race and the ensuing celebration, showing Phelps, Garrett Weber-Gale (I would later meet Weber-Gale at a swim practice at UW-Milwaukee as he trained with the team a few times while in town), and Cullen Jones. But then it was back to business in the 200m freestyle, in which Phelps set another OR and WR, edging out Park Tae-Hwan of South Korea, to win his ninth gold medal.

The 200m butterfly was the next major swim. While I remember never being in doubt about who would win, the proximity of the rest of the swimmers to Phelps was unsettling. He should have been further ahead. When he finished the race, he quickly tore off his goggles, a sure sign that something had gone wrong with them. By the 100m mark, his goggles had filled up with water, but he still managed the win. With this gold, Phelps reached ten Olympic gold medals in his career, something no one had done in this modern Olympic era. Among other firsts achieved in this race, Phelps became the first swimmer to successfully defend an Olympic butterfly title and the first to win three individual Olympic gold medals in butterfly.

Later the same night, Phelps won another gold in leading off the 4x200m free relay.

Phelps’ 100m butterfly final was next. Once again using what one of his opponents said about him as fuel, Phelps touched the wall first. This time it was the Serbian-American swimmer, Milorad Cavic, who had said about Phelps, “It’d be good for him if he loses.” If Phelps wins seven golds and loses “the eigth to ‘some guy,’ I’d like to be that guy.” Cavic led the entire race until the wall, where Cavic glided to the touchpad with his head up, slowing his forward movement. Phelps’ finish was no better, but instead of gliding to the wall he took one gimpy stroke and rammed his hands into the wall. It was an impossible finish mostly because it was such a trick on the eye. There are a lot of swim races that are determined by .01, but for it to happen this way at this point was incredible. I just remember shaking my head, thinking Phelps had God on his side or something. After this race, I knew he was going to get his eighth gold of the Beijing games. It was clear that this was his destiny.

Serbia did file a protest and timing officials reviewed the photographs of the finish. In what is the most famous and recognizable photo among swimming fans, one can see Phelps’ fingers bent back due to touching the pad, but Cavic’s fingers are still stretched out, a millimeter or less from the pad. It is believed, by some, that the real difference between the two swimmers was a few thousandths of a second. An Omega official even publicly stated that it’s possible that Cavic was the first to touch the pad, but because the pad naturally requires a certain amount of pressure to stop the time, it registered Phelps as first because he was the first to apply the appropriate amount of pressure. This may or may not be the case, but I think the photos of the finish clearly show Phelps was victorious.

Phelps’ reaction to the 100m butterfly win will always be with me. He raised an arm showing a number one with his hand and then he slapped the water with both hands letting out this primal yell, which was the epitome of pure emotion, an explosion of it, and it was the moment I feel that Phelps knew he was going to go get eight gold medals in Beijing.

Not that Phelps’ last Beijing swim was boring, it just couldn’t have lived up to the 4x100m free relay or the 100m fly. However, in Phelps’ leg (the butterfly) he set the record split at 50.1 seconds, moving from third to first as Lezak once again went into the water to anchor the US team and win gold. Afterward, Phelps remained humble and it seemed like all he wanted to do was get away and be with this family. He did exactly that, parting the sea of photographers in order to hug his mom and sisters. They were all smiling and crying. I was too. I had never felt so proud of and happy for an athlete and a sport.

The Run-up to London

After the Olympics, Phelps was all over the place, including a Sports Illustrated cover similar to Spitz’s famous SI cover, just that Phelps had eight golds hanging around his neck. It was epic and a must-buy magazine for me.

The first major news story about Phelps in the post-Beijing era was that he took a hit from a bong. It was no big deal and no different than if Phelps had gone out and had ten beers. No one would have made a story about that even though it is the same kind of behavior. The man just proved to the world he is the greatest Olympian of all time. Taking a hit off a bong isn’t going to change that for anyone with a true and deep appreciation for what Phelps had done. Apparently, Kellogg is not in this category, as they promptly dropped sponsorship of Phelps.

During the interregnum, so to speak, Phelps kept earning medals at major international swimming competitions. Only a few of them were of a different color because Ryan Lochte started winning the 200m IM and the 400m IM, traditionally Phelps’ territory. Thus began the media’s obsession with Lochte and their push to make him the poster boy of the London 2012 games.

London 2012

After watching the 400m IM in the opening night of swimming at London I was a little concerned. I feel like Phelps should have stayed away from the event like he said he would. He wasn’t training specifically for it and it is the toughest one you can swim. But I was hopeful he would turn things around. It is a long week of swimming and Phelps’ best events were ahead of him. The worst part about Phelps finishing fourth and Lochte first were the headlines. ESPN’s “The torch has been passed,” was one of the worst offenders. I am sorry ESPN, what do you know about athletes who compete in Olympic sports? Oh, that’s right, nothing. ESPN and other media outlets jumped the gun on that one.

A silver in the 4x100m free relay wasn’t that bad at all and it put Phelps in a position to become the most decorated Olympian of all time on the next day of competition. On that day he finished second in the 200m butterfly and first in the 4x200m free relay. Phelps absolutely should have won the 200m fly, but he fell victim to the same poor finish of Cavic’s from four years earlier. But he seemed to brush that off with his first gold in London and I knew Phelps was going to go out strong. He wouldn’t be finishing his career with a flurry of silver and bronze medals. No sir.

Two days later, he beat Lochte in the 200m IM. Lochte had a busy night with this final and before it the final of the 200m backstroke. Lochte, if he were the new king of swimming, would have had to win at least one of these races. He didn’t. And on top of that, he lost one to Phelps, the supposed second best swimmer in the world. With the 200m IM victory, Phelps became the first swimmer ever to win the same event at three consecutive Olympics. Another first. The next night in the 100m fly, he did it again. He is the only swimmer to win the same two events in three consecutive Olympics. Another first.

In Phelps’ last swim ever, he owned the 100m fly leg of the 4x100m medley relay, bringing the medal tally to 22, 18 of them gold. For the first time I saw Phelps on the edge of bursting into tears and it came at the end of the post-race interview with NBC’s Andrea Kremer. As he turned away you could see him trying so hard to keep the emotion in. It was a rare expression from Phelps as he walked away from an Olympic pool for the last time, a pool he was king of, for as long as he called it home.

The Post-Phelps Era

The state of US swimming couldn’t be better after losing the greatest swimmer of all time to retirement. Lochte wants to swim in Rio. Missy Franklin is a 17-year-old superstar who is so versatile and young that she could become the most decorated female Olympian of all time. Two Olympics from now, Franklin will still only be 25-years-old. And then there is Katie Ledecky, a 15-year-old…a 15-year-old, who crushed the field in the women’s 800m freestyle.

Phelps inspired all three of these swimmers and he will inspire countless more. He could say he is a living legend. He could say he is the greatest athlete and Olympian of all time. And he would be justified in doing so. But, like always, he will let his swimming do the talking.