Sports Illustrated photographer Heinz Kluetmeier has covered every Olympics for SI (with the exception of Innsbruck) since the Munich Games. He and his assistant, Jeff Kavanaugh, landed the signature sequence of the Olympics: Michael Phelps beating Serbia's Milorad Cavic to the touchpad in the 100 butterfly. Below, Kluetmeier explains how he got the shot and the difference between Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps as photography subjects. Click here to see the photos.
BEIJING -- On a sticky Sunday morning when history and mythology were intertwined, a 23-year-old swimmer with the slack-jawed smile and an acute sense of the moment churned through Lane 4 of the Water Cube and into sports immortality and the common currency of the English language. In rewriting swimming and Olympic history with his eighth gold medal, Michael Phelps was rewriting the dictionary. As backstroker Aaron Peirsol, who started the 4x100 medley relay, would say, "The term Spitzian might be outdated now by the Phelpsian feat."
Last month Mark Spitz ambled into Sports Illustrated's New York offices for a 25-minute meet and greet, one of the many whistle stops for Spitz on behalf of the pharmaceutical company Allergan, which pays him some handsome gold to work as a corporate spokesperson. Naturally the conversation turned to the comparisons with Michael Phelps:
BEIJING -- On Wednesday, Michael Phelps won gold medals in the 200-meter butterfly and 4x200-meter relay to increase his career total to 11 Olympic golds, the most by any athlete in any sport in the history of the Games. Phelps had been tied with four others, each of whom had nine. You could make a case for each of those athletes, and for Phelps, as the greatest Olympic athlete in history.
In the whole history of the Olympics, only four American swimmers have achieved lasting celebrity. Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe went on to Hollywood as Tarzan; Eleanor Holm, gorgeous and notorious, starred in the World's Fair Aquacade; and Mark Spitz won all those golds at Munich in 1972. Now, maybe Michael Phelps will become number five. We'll see. But, except for a little accident of history, Sunny Boy Kiefer would definitely have been included in that exalted group.
American swimmer Michael Phelps remains on course for his target of eight Beijing gold medals after winning his third event of the Games, taking the men's 200-meter freestyle in a new world record time -- his third in a row.
The U.S. men were world beaters (and world-record beaters) on Tuesday at the Water Cube in Beijing, as both Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol blitzed their own world marks. Phelps started off the celebration with a controlled, confident performance in one of his more dominant events, the 200-meter freestyle, to lower his mark from 1:43.86 to 1:42.96. It was the ninth gold medal of Phelps' stellar career, tying him for most all-time with fellow swimmer Mark Spitz, track star Carl Lewis, Finnish distance legend Paavo Nurmi and Russian gymnast Larissa Latynina. An hour later, Peirsol came back with a superb swim, dropping his standard from 52.89 seconds to 52.54. Neither veteran was seriously challenged over the last part of his race, and most eyes were alternating between the pool and scoreboard clock to see which records would fall.
With history about to slip away and Michael Phelps cheering him on, Jason Lezak pulled up next to the lane rope and set out after hulking Alain Bernard, like a NASCAR driver drafting down the backstretch at Daytona
Michael Phelps was flipping through TV channels in his Melbourne hotel room last Friday when, for the first time all week, he was stopped cold. Phelps had come across Pardon the Interruption, and hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser were yapping -- in between Final Four forecasts and spring training rants -- about Phelps's historic performance at the world swimming championships. Where did he belong on the sporting landscape? Was he elevating his niche sport to watercooler status? "Awesome," said Phelps, a sports-TV junkie. "I watch these guys all the time, and now they're talking about swimming."