Swimming has long relied on flimflam to inflate interest. The whole structure of a swim meet is an exercise in creative accounting: No other sport gives out so many separate medals for doing minor variations on the same thing. In Beijing, Phelps got one gold medal for swimming 200 meters in 1:42.96. Then he got another gold medal for swimming 200 meters in 1:52.03. Then he got yet another gold medal for swimming 200 meters in 1:54.23. Freestyle, butterfly, freestyle-butterfly medley—different strokes for the same old folks. It was as if, having sprinted 100 meters for the gold, Usain Bolt could have followed up by winning the 100-meter skip, the 100-meter bunny hop, and the 100-meter moonwalk.
The more mildly different ways there are to race, the more mildly different ways there are to break records. "We're the most popular boring sport in the world and so we need and only survive on records," Austrian swimmer Markus Rogan said the other day. "So we're going to need whatever we can do to keep doing records."
--Tom Scocca, Slate, on record inflation