There are two things you cannot escape at Rio 2016. The first is the shadow of Michael Phelps, which stretches as long and as far as that of Christ the Redeemer, the Art Deco statue of Jesus Christ that towers above the city.
He is everywhere. On posters, billboards and most of all people’s lips. The first conversation I had this morning with legendary Australian Olympian, swimmer Michael Klim (who won two gold medals at the Sydney 2000 Olympics), was about Phelps. “Did you see the race?” Klim asked. “I was there. He’s just incredible.” Even the Dream Team limited their pre-game tourist activities to two things: visiting Christ the Redeemer and watching Phelps in the pool.
The second unavoidable sight at Rio is the Omega logo, which is ubiquitous on uniforms, timing equipment and hoardings all over the city.
The two forces – Phelps and the Olympics’ official timekeeper – are tighter together than ever after the chief executive of Omega, Raynald Aeschlimann, confirmed in a Wall Street Journal interview that Omega was sticking with the recently embattled athlete. “His name, times, records and achievements will never be forgotten,” Aeschlimann said in the story. He added that Omega planned to back Phelps “whether he came to Rio or not.”
Phelps is in the process of rebuilding his personal brand after a couple of DUIs and a stint in an alcohol rehab program. Winning his third gold medal of Rio 2016 last night (and 21st gold medal in total) not only puts his troubles further behind him, it makes the loyalty shown by Omega all the more meaningful.
“His name, times, records and achievements will never be forgotten,” Aeschlimann said in the story. He added that Omega planned to back Phelps “whether he came to Rio or not.”
This morning, at breakfast, Aeschlimann said that he had, in the last 24 hours, received a personal email from Phelps thanking him for the comments made in the WSJ. Phelps is due to appear at Omega House, a popular venue for celebrity spotting at Rio, later in the week.