MICHAEL Phelps won his 19th medal last night at the London Olympics and therefore can claim to be the greatest Olympian of all time. But who remembers the day he came for a dip in the Hampstead Heath ponds in the wake of his success in Beijing four years ago? Everybody was giddy with excitement.
Thing was, Phelpsy walked up a diving board and had his picture taken… but didn’t actually get in the water. This led to perhaps my favourite introductory sentences ever printed in the New Journal, from the mind and keyboards of Tom Foot and Simon Wroe. Here was classic ‘whimsy writing’, which editors love to be perfected for page three. I’m not sure how ‘au fait’ got past the subs but… Guardian and Telegraph colour writers, read it and weep:
‘As the proclaimed “greatest ever Olympian”, swimmer Michael Phelps is accustomed to pristine lengths of clear blue water. As a former malarial marsh, the Highgate Men’s Pond is more au fait with middle-aged belly flops and the undersides of ducks. So it should have come as little surprise when Mr Phelps visited the Hampstead Heath spot on Monday that while an amphibious American can lead to pond water, he cannot be made to swim it.
If you read the rest of the story, you’ll see Phelps’s memories of Hampstead will be ruined by an upset stomach which had him rushing to the toilet in the middle of his photoshoot.