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Editorial: Phelps has become the gold standard at home and abroad

So many of Michael Phelps' achievements can be measured in tangible ways.

The number of Olympics in which he has competed: 4.

Olympic medals: 22.

Gold: 18.

Age of his first Olympic race in Sydney, Australia: 15.

Age of his final (at least according to him) Olympic race in London, England: 27.

Those are just a few of the numbers that add up to sporting history; a career that makes longtime Rodgers Forge resident Michael Phelps the most decorated Olympian of all time — arguably the greatest Olympic athlete of all time.

Over the past week, Michael Phelps has made yet another a splash around the world. But while millions cheered in London and elsewhere, his hometown is already making plans to cheer his return.

County officials have formed a committee to plan a celebration of Phelps' ascent of Mount Olympus, but what is appropriate? A statue? Shall we flood York Road and make it a lap pool? Turn Towson streetlights into Olympic torches? Whatever the shape and size of the celebration, it will no doubt be a special celebration.

After all, it's one thing to have great athletes come to your town and be heralded for legendary performances. It's another to send a local resident, neighbor, student and athlete out into the world — and watch him conquer it.

Phelps' career is indeed measured in numbers, but there are achievements that reach beyond strokes, times, laps and heats.

The number of children, both local and global, whom he has inspired? Impossible to calculate.

The pride of his hometown community? Immeasurable.

Two weeks ago we talked to a few local swimmers about the influence Michael Phelps has had on them.

One was Grace Hansen, a Springlake Swim Club swimmer who said Phelps "influences me to be not afraid to have a dream that some people may think is impossible. If you think you can do it, then you can definitely do it."

Inspiring? Yes, but she also recalled a personal encounter with Phelps in 2002 that was perhaps as golden as any medal.

"He came and visited my brother (Steven) when my brother was diagnosed with cancer," she said. "He came to my house and visited him, played basketball with him, and he was my brother's best friend."

There are people who earn gold medals, and there are people who do something with them to make them even more valuable.

We congratulate Michael Phelps on his Olympic legacy, thank him for the pride, entertainment and success he has shared — and look forward to a victory lap that winds up back in Towson.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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