Giant on the move
Michael Phelps is a phenomenal swimmer, possibly the best in history, and if he achieves his target of eight gold medals in Beijing, for an overall tally of 14 (10 of them individual) there is no doubt that he deserves his place in the pantheon.
But the greatest-ever Olympian? That is a big call.
There is no denying that it is tough to win an Olympic swimming gold but, once you reach that standard, there are plenty to harvest. Many of the top swimmers seem capable of racing over 100 metres, 200, 400, often in a variety of strokes, plus the medley, and also seemingly have relays for just about every distance.
In athletics it is extremely rare for a 100 metres runner to go as high as 400 and even if they could, the qualification rounds would be too draining to have any hope of adding the 200 as well.
To get on a par with swimming the Games would have to introduce the track races over 50, 150, and 250 metres (plus relays of course). They would have to get creative to match the medley, perhaps 50 metres of sprinting, 50 of hurdling and 50 of running backwards — and get three friends together and there’s another medal to shoot for.
Until a few months ago, a few weeks in some cases, the Jingshun Highway, once one of the main arteries out of Beijing heading for skiing in the mountains and the Great Wall, was lined with scrappy auto-repair workshops, metal yards, tyre stores, manual car-wash services and other businesses.
I am talking about the stretch of highway northeast of the huge conurbation of Wanjing, beginning where the airport expressway veers off to the right and surrounded by the suburbs of grandiose villa compounds with names like Beijing Riviera and Grand Hills, temporary homes to CEOs and other rich expats.