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:
"The guy who probably has more of a problem with it is Michael," Spitz said. "Michael can't be Michael. Michael's middle name is 'Mark Spitz,' basically. Somebody once said to me, 'If you're a great champion and you're considered special, then my greatness becomes a matter of record that others measure themselves by. If that's the case, that's only positive for me being linked to him because he measures what I've done as a benchmark of something he'd like to achieve. We've only seen this once in 36 years. We had Matt Biondi, who tried to challenge the record in Seoul and he fell a little short. Winning five gold medals for Matt was phenomenal. And now we see Michael try to do something similar."
Phelps has already passed Biondi. With Saturday's finals of the 100 butterfly (10:10 p.m. ET on Friday night) Phelps goes after Spitz's record of seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics. But it won't be easy.
• The two men with the best chance to derail the road to Spitzville? Teammate Ian Crocker and Serbia's Milorad Cavic, the first competitor of these Games to formally trash talk the Golden Boy.
"It would be good for the sport if he loses,'' said Cavic, who swims for Serbia via Cal-Berkeley. "It'd be good for him if he loses. It would be nice if historians talk about Michael Phelps winning seven gold medals and losing the eighth to some guy. I'd like to be that guy.''
Crocker and Phelps had combined for the 17 fastest times in history in the 100 butterfly heading into the Olympics. "If both men swim at their absolute best, Crocker would be favored, but Crocker has never been a big-race guy," says SI's Brian Cazeneuve. "If both men go to the wall close together, the edge should go to Phelps. If Crocker's form, emotional and physical, is right, Phelps could fall here."
• Other action at the pool includes a duel between Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry and world-record holder Margaret Hoelzer of the U.S. in the women's 200 backstroke final (10:03 p.m.). Great Britain's Rebecca Adlington, winner of the 400 free, is a heavy favorite in the 800 free final (10:16 p.m.), while Brazil's César Cielo Filho, France's Alain Bernard and Australia's Eamon Sullivan are the favorites for the gold in the men's 50 free (10:39 p.m.). It would be an upset if American Ben Wildman-Tobriner gets to the medal stand. One semifinal of note: Dara Torres swims in the women's 50 free semis (10:54 p.m.).
• The glamour event of track -- the men's 100 final -- comes at the end of the competition on Saturday (10:30 a.m. ET). The staff consensus here in Beijing? Take Usain Bolt of Jamaica. He and Walter Dix of the U.S. run in one semifinal at 8:05 a.m. Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell follow at 8:13 a.m.
• The women's 100 (Lauryn Williams of the U.S. is a medal favorite) begins qualifying heats at 10:40 p.m. Other track events include the women's shot put final (9 a.m.), semifinals in the men's 1,500 and 400 hurdles and the men's 20km walk final (9 p.m.). Medal hopeful Sonya Richards of the U.S. runs her first heat in the women's 400 (12:38 a.m.).
• Roger Federer looks for doubles gold (along with fellow Swiss StanislasWawrinka) against France's Arnaud Clément and Michaël Llodra. The match begins at 4 a.m. The bronze-medal singles match is a dandy: JamesBlake against Novak Djokovic.
• Plenty of team action for the Americans: The U.S. meets New Zealand ("the Black Sticks") in women's field hockey (8:30 p.m.), Poland in women's foil (9 p.m.), China in men's volleyball (10 p.m.), Canada in men's baseball (10:30 p.m.), Taiwan in softball (midnight) and Croatia in men's water polo (12:10 a.m.). Of course the team competition that will draw the most interest in the States is men's basketball. The Redeem (Don't Call us Dream) Team plays Spain at 10:15 a.m. Both teams are 3-0. The U.S. has never lost to Spain in eight meetings.
•The U.S. women's table-tennis team has advanced to its deepest round in Olympic history. The team of Jun Gao, Crystal Huang and Chen Wang face South Korea (10 p.m.) in bronze medal action. The winner gets a spot in the bronze-medal final.
• Women's 3-meter springboard diving continues with semifinals at 8 p.m. The semis will feature the top 18 divers from preliminaries.
"Playing in the Olympics, in what's supposed to be considered a gentleman's sport, that's a time to call it on yourself. Fernando looked me square in the eye and didn't call it. I make mistakes, but I try to do it with integrity, so my parents would be proud of the way I played. If that happened the other way, I never would have finished the match because my father would have pulled me off the court if I had acted that way.
"I've spoken all week about how much I've enjoyed the Olympic experience, how much I love the spirit of it, how much I love the other athletes, what they've sacrificed and you appreciate that. And the guys go out and compete their hardest, win fair and square, lose fair and square. That's a disappointing way to exit the tournament, when you not only lose the match, but you lose a little faith in your fellow competitor." -- Blake, after losing 4-6, 7-5, 11-9 to Chile's Fernando González. According to The Associated Press, Blake was upset over an incident that occurred with González serving at 8-9 in the final set. On the opening point, Blake hit a backhand passing shot long but contended the ball ticked González's racket before landing. TV replays confirmed his contention.
"It's a feeling that I don't think any father can describe. Many years ago I was second at the Seoul Olympics, so it's nice to fix that mistake I made."-- Valeri Liukin, on his daughter, Nastia, winner of the all-around gold medal in gymnastics.
3Times a nation has had a 1-2 finish in the all-around women's gymnastics competition, including the U.S. (Liukin and Shawn Johnson, 2008), Romania (Simona Amanar and Maria Olaru, '00), and the Soviet Union (LarissaLatynina and Sofia Muratova, 1960).
SI staffers weigh in on the television coverage, hot stories and hot button issues surrounding the Games.
• One week into the Beijing Games, SI's Dick Friedman offers his impressions of what has come through the TV and computer screens. Winners and losers to the podium, pronto!
• Color SI.com's Jacob Luft duly impressed by the gold-medal efforts of U.S. gymnast Liukin. But he wonders why she isn't getting the same amount of press as Phelps considering how much more gymnasts have to go through to compete -- and win -- at the Olympic level.
1. The need for greed (by Jon Henley, The Guardian): The writer adopts the Phelps 12,000-calorie-a-day diet. The verdict? He's no Michael Phelps.
2. Another daunting Olympic quest: the search for gallant behavior (by BarryNewman, The Wall Street Journal): In search of sportsmanship at the Games.
3. Good as gold? Much better (by Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post): "Greatness is a vague, overly broad word that describes everything from Henry VIII's waistline to a rather famous local wall, but it certainly fits Phelps, still famished for victories despite 12 golds, and closing in on an unprecedented eight in a single Olympic meet," writes the always great Jenkins.