It seems to me that hyperbole has taken over sports media and our culture in general. ESPN personality Chris Berman once said that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was the "most humble, considerate person in the world." A news commentator from a "fair and balanced" news network caught heat earlier this summer for spinning a benign act of solidarity into a "terrorist fist jab." Almost every game, match and contest is lauded as a classic whether or not an extraordinary feat was achieved. Journalists, reporters and anchors often lack the very thing they're attempting to provideâ€”perspective.
That's extremely frustrating because perspective is important. Perspective allows us to frame what we're thinking, seeing and experiencing in a familiar and easily understandable context. Indeed, hyperbole has firmly fixed itself inside our subconscious and is a dangerous force that must be stopped. It has turned the remarkable into the mundane.
With the small exception of swimmer Michael Phelps.
Phelps has already won the most career gold medals in Olympic history. His 11 gold medals are more than the entire country of Mexico has accumulated in the 112 years of the modern games.
He will beâ€”or is, depending upon your point of viewâ€”the greatest Olympian ever.
No one from Mars, Saturn, Nebulon 5 or Vega can set world records with the regularity of Phelps.
Phelps has outclassed, at some point, every challenger to his swimming throne. Ian Thorpe got the best of him in the 2004 Olympic games in Athens, beating the then 19-year-old in the 200-meter freestyle final.
Two years later, Phelps shattered Thorpe's world record.
The Baltimore native owns or shares six world records, all set since July 4. It's rare for an athleteâ€”with all of the advances in technology and nutritionâ€”to be that superior and that far separated from his contemporaries. In the last three decades or so, there are few sportsmen who have matched Phelps' dominance. In fact, just five names come to mind: Michael Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and Roger Federer.
At the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, Johnson and his golden shoes ran by competitors on the way to two gold medals and one of the most stunning athletic achievements I've ever witnessed.
He easily won the 400-meter title in 43.49 seconds, a full second ahead of silver medalist Roger Black of Great Britain.
In the 200-meter final, Johnson set a world record by finishing the race in 19.32 seconds. What's most impressive isn't that he smashed the previous world record by 0.34 second (an eternity in track and field). It isn't the fact that the NBC cameras had to zoom out to get other runners in the camera frame. And it isn't the fact that Johnson reached a peak speed of 25 mph during the race. What's most impressive is that Johnson finished his final 100-meters of the race in 9.2 seconds. For comparison's s sake, the fastest time run by a human in the 100-meters was a wind-aided 9.69 by U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay in July.
That's the kind of dominance Phelps has achieved, only with more medals, more notoriety and more stardom than Johnson.
The frightening part for the rest of the world is that Phelps, who is only 23 years old, is just entering his prime.
At the 2012 Olympic games in London, he'll be an over-the-hill 27-year-old. Unless he gets bored, it's safe to say Phelps could be known as the greatest athlete in the history of the galaxy.
Those folks over in the Canis Major dwarf galaxy don't want to mess with him.