Wednesday July 2nd, 2008

Who would have thunk it? The United States of America, that noble bastion of individualism, is bombing in individual sports.

The current Wimbledon officially certifies that American tennis no longer exists except for that one family, name of Williams. Tennis -- especially that played by people with a Y chromosome -- has become pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of what Donald Rumsfeld called "old Europe."

Now that Tiger Woods is sidelined, the leftover golfers from the old U.S. ... well, if they were companies, they'd make up the Dow Jones index. The world's fastest human is a Jamaican, though Tyson Gay is giving us hope. The world's heavyweight champions are Russian and Nigerian and the best boxer is a Filipino.

Yes, my fellow citizens, even as July 4 is upon us, whoever would've thought that globalism would mean that the U.S. would outsource blue ribbons and gold medals?

But don't give up hope, America, because holy Johnny Weissmuller, look! Into this vacuum comes splashing ... it's a man, it's a fish, it's ... Michael Phelps.

History tells us that Baltimore saved the nation in 1814 -- "Our flag was still there!" -- after the British burned Washington. History tells us that Babe Ruth left Baltimore, going forth to save the National Pastime after the World Series in 1919 was fixed.

Now in 2008, history is prepared for young Mr. Phelps to come out of Baltimore this century and not only save our national athletic honor but, by the by, to also save the National Broadcasting Company's ratings.

You see, it isn't just that Phelps is our great bright hope at Beijing. Time itself is on his side. Because Beijing is halfway 'round the world, NBC must present most all competition in primetime, insipidly, on a delayed basis. Even the premiere Olympic sport, track and field, will appear here on television hours after the results are known. Who wants to see re-runs of runs already pre-run?

But as a sop to the fading Yankee dollar, the Chinese did agree to schedule swimming in the morning -- evening over here -- so, at least for those viewers residing east of the Mississippi, the action in the pool will be authentic.

Phelps, who swam for six gold medals in the '04 Olympics and seven in the world championships last year, is bidding to win eight this time. That would break the fabled record of seven Mark Spitz accumulated in 1972. The challenge has been joined this week at the Olympic trials, where Phelps is off to a smashing start as he seeks to qualify in enough events to beat history in Beijing.

So much is NBC counting on Phelps to supply both drama and glory in August, that it is hyping him now by showing four nights of the swimming trials in primetime. Bob Costas has already advised Phelps on air that he bids fair to join Michael Jordan and Tiger as a consecrated American demigod.

But, heaven help us, should Phelps somehow fail to qualify for enough races so that he can't chase Spitz's record, NBC might just as well bag the whole '08 Olympics and cry out: "Everybody outta the pool!"

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.