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Philip Hersh

Philip Hersh grew up in Boston but has lived in Evanston, Ill. since 1977. He has worked at the Chicago Tribune since 1984 and has focused on international sports and the Olympics since 1987. For 10 straight years, the German sports publication, Sport Intern, named Hersh among the 100 most influential people in world sports. Prior to joining the Tribune, Hersh worked for the Baltimore Evening Sun, the Chicago Daily News and the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Comments (31)

apparently, you know nothing about dara or you would not have used her name in any association with doping. she has proven herself a winner throughout her entire life, starting with the LA olympics as a teenager, retiring twice, having a baby and now qualifying for her record fifth olympic team. proving that she is gifted and a superior athlete. not to mention her insistance, especially this time around, on drug testing beyond what the other athletes are doing and more than most professional athletes do in their lifetime. but then, you already know this since you are a sports writer.
maybe if you would take the time to actually meet this amazing woman, you would know that she would never cheat herself or her fans.
let's try to stay above ground when it comes to dara and let her be a role model for the 40 somethings out there. she certainly is my hero.

As for your accusations against Dara? Totally uninformed. First of all, she was unbeatable during her college years when she wasn't even swimming at 100% due to her bulimia. No one can be in top shape suffering from an eating disorder yet she won every possible award that could go to a collegiate swimmer. Now that she's older and wiser, 12 pounds lighter and more efficient with machine like percision in her technique, she is 100% and better than ever. This girl is highly competitive and has been since the age of 14 when she won her first international race. The girl is built to swim. Now I must ask. With Brett Favre making a 'comeback' and everyone stating that he's in much better shape will he be questioned? This is a guy who's been beat up for numerous years yet now he's 'better than ever'. Where's the accusations for Favre? And by the way, Dara has been a proven champion many times over compared to Brett.

You know, Philip, it might be understandable that someone would be cynical about juicing in this day and age, but let me add a few thoughts and perspectives, based on my experience as a successful NCAA swimmer and as someone who was diagnosed as asthmatic at age 50: 1) Dara has maintained her conditioning at a high level, with some of the best coaches in the world, throughout most of her life; 2) she has what is probably one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) dietary and training regimes in the world; 3) she has voluntarily subjected herself to completely random drug testing and has asked that the samples be frozen, in order to analyze them with any more sophisticated tests that become available in the future; 4) formoterol and albuterol are not steroidal, so they do not help build muscle; they are smooth muscle relaxants that open airways in asthmatics to normal size; 5) sprinting is highly dependent on technique and Dara has an incredibly efficient stroke; 6) sprinting is an anaerobic event; even if Dara were gaining some small aerobic advantage by using those medicines, it would not help her in training for, or competing in, an anaerobic event. Inhaled corticosteroids do not affect muscle mass or provide an aerobic advantage to a swimmer with asthma.
All of this doesn't mean that Dara is clean, but it certainly suggests that you should have researched your topic a little more before writing an implied hit piece.

Whoa...what is your deal with Michael Phelps? Did he cut you off one day on the Kennedy? I read that and laughed. It is ok for you to think he is not the greatest but not in your top 5? That is just ignorance! Dude, he has 50% of the US's TOTAL GOLD medals! Does he have to walk on the water for you think differently? Wow. That article was just dumb. 5 minutes of my life I'll never get back!

Your article on Michael Phelps was the most ignorant article I've ever read in my life. You have absolutely no facts to support any of your arguments, just flawed observations. I hope you're not getting paid for this crap your writing.

I just read your "special to the LA Times" article about the "greatest Olympic athelete ever" and I would like to say that I am very surprised that you don't have Jackie Joyner-Kersee on the list. She did it all and in fine fashion. I think you should come up with another list.

What happened to Mark Spitz who won all his 7 Gold Medals in one Olympics....He says that he was not even invited to Bejiing. Is that the way to treat a Gold Medal Winner....

Clearly you have no understanding of swimming. All sports are demanding physically in unique ways. Swimming two races back to back whether its on land or in water is not only physically demanding, but very difficult.
"Nearly every good freestyler can be a good butterflyer, and vice-versa."
Are you kidding me? You go try and swim a lap of butterfly and a lap of freestyle. Very different strokes, use different muscles, wear you out differently.
What Phelps is doing is nothing short of amazing. The events he swims are among the most physically demanding. He is making everyone in the lanes around him look like amateurs.
If you want to make an argument against him being the best Olympian ever, that's fine. Don't compare apples to oranges, don't compare swimming to track. You wouldn't call a lawyer to ask him medical questions, and you shouldn't reference a track and field athlete to comment on the physical demands of swimming. And don't critique swimming yourself like you actualy have ever swam a competitive lap in your life.
Terrible arguments, irrelevant sources, poorly written article.

It's unfair to make judgments that track is a harder sport than swimming. Each sport is difficult in it's own way. I don't think Carl Lewis could ever achieve what Michael Phelps has done in the water and vise versa. Swimming requires a great deal of endurance and strength as in track. You may have your opinions of Phelps but your article is insulting to all swimmers.

What should I expect from a LA Times writer. Your article on Michael Phelps lacked class and respect for a great athlete. To say that his record breaking perforances were meaningless is bull $&^* You have no idea what it takes for an athlete of his talent to get where he is. As the mother of an elite athlete I know the sacrafices that these young athletes and their families make on a daily basis. You can't compare apples and oranges. Michael Phelps is the most dominant Olympic athlete ever period. His gold medals prove it. Shame on you and shame on LA times for allowing you to run that article.

Sorry Mr. Hersh you are an idiot. Any athlete setting these Lind of records (not the medals, the times) is an all-time greatest athlete. These are not just medals. These are world records over many years that he is destroying.


If you ever trained as a swimmer you would not make the statements you have made in your article. It may be the most difficult sport on the planet!

Phoenix, Arizona

Mr Hersh,

RE: Michael Phelps is not the greatest Olympic athlete in history

I have no problem with the argument that Phelps may or may not be the greatest Olympic athlete in history (time will tell) BUT are you trying to sound like a total d-bag in the support of your opinion that he is not? If so, you've succeeded!

Suggestion: Sprint a 200 and swim a 200 and then rewrite your commentary.

There are morons, there are arrogant morons, and there are really arrogant morons. You, sir, are the latter.

This passes as "commentary"? I think verbal dissentary is more accurate.

What a waste of time.


Boston, MA

Philip Hersh obviously hates swimming and has no real objective credibility.

Unfounded accusations against one swimmer, and an overall bashing of the sport based on "facts" that he must have made up.

It's a sad day in sports journalism when someone like this has a job in it.

I agree with some of your points about Michael Phelps--it is difficult (and unfair, I'd say) to label any one athlete the greatest Olympian ever because the various sports that make up the Olympic games are so different and because there's such variation from sport to sport in how many medals it is possible to win (no Olympic soccer player is ever going to take home seven medals from one year's games, for instance). I also agree that it would be nice to see Phelps compete in the 2012 games so we can see if there's longevity to his dominance.

However, I have to agree with many of the other posters here on one point: your knowledge of the physicality of competitive swimming is abysmal. Each of the four strokes requires its own kind of movement, rhythm, and skill. I'll grant that any Olympic freestyler is probably better at the butterfly than the average dude on the street, but becoming gold-medal, world-record good at more than one stroke (or at the individual medley, at which Phelps excels) is not simply a matter of hopping in the pool one day and saying, "Gosh, I feel like being the best at butterfly today" and taking off down the pool. By the same token, it's unusual for a swimmer to be both a good sprinter and a good distance swimmer.

As to the faster races this year in swimming because of technological advances, let's not pretend that other sports aren't affected by such advances as well.

Frankly, I find the tone of your whole article off-putting. I'm all for pointing out Olympic greats of the past who deserve our attention. I'm all for suggesting ways in which Phelps can prove himself even further. But the Olympics ought to be a celebration of what we can accomplish, not a time to get shirty about who is or is not the best because his sport doesn't put as much stress on his knees as the other guy's. Anybody who could watch the men's 4 x 100 relay or see Michael Phelps come into the wall full seconds ahead of the rest of the field and not CELEBRATE his accomplishment is missing the point of the contest.

Philip Hersh needs to stop knocking on Micheal Phelps. He is the greatest olympian and has proved that this year in Beijing. If you think that track is more athletically demanding than swimming, then you have something wrong with your head and you have obviously never tried swimming the butterfly. It's not much of a debate. It seems to me that a gold medal count is the only way to really judge who is the greatest Olympian. I would suggest that you go into the pool and try to swim a 100 meter butterfly and then come back and try to write and article in which you state that track is more phisically demanding then swimming, then we'll talk.

It's difficult to believe a journalist wrote the piece "Michael Phelps is not the greatest Olympic athlete in history." It sounds more like a blog written by a bitter teenager than it does a professional sports article.

"It is easy to win multiple medals in swimming." This may be the most ridiculous thing written in your article, which is saying a lot considering the piece is absolutely riddled with outlandish baseless statements. It's EASY to win multiple medals? Are you insane? You're a sports writer and have such little respect for the amazingly difficult sport of swimming, that you pass off Olympic gold medals as a dime a dozen. This statement alone illustrates Mr. Hersh's ignorance and proves he is in no way qualified to write about Michael Phelps and his accomplishments in Beijing. But, in an almost laughable fashion, the "sports" writer continues.

"Don't try to argue that Phelps has been part of world-record performances in his first five events." Wow, thanks for determining we aren't allowed to even discuss Michael Phelps' world records. And exactly why can't a person bring that up again? Because a track and field athlete claimed it's easy to recover in swimming. It's pretty amazing a track and field athlete has so much in depth and scientific knowledge of swimming. Perhaps asking an actual expert in swimming about recovery time might have been SLIGHTLY more convincing argument.

"New pool and suit technology have made swimming's world records meaningless, with 18 record performances through Thursday in the Olympics alone." So not only can we not mention the world records, even if we do, they are meaningless. Again, it's amazing that you can determine an entire sport is a joke because of a swim suit. How about track and field and their improvements? I don't pretend to be an expert, such as you claim to be in swimming, but I'm sure the athletes in track and field have enjoyed quite a few improvements in equipment over the years. I'm sure the track itself has improved, the shoes, the tape they wrap their ankles with...does that mean all world records in track and field are null and void?

"Swimming is pressure off your body, where we are pounding on it," Felix said. Again, a track and field person claiming swimming provides no pressure on your body. Perhaps Mr. Hersh, you'd like to do some actual RESEARCH on this topic, as opposed to blindly asking a person who is in no way affiliated with swimming.

"Three of swimming's four strokes -- everything but the breaststroke -- might as well be the same." This statement is as asinine as it sounds and only further proves Mr. Hersh not only has no knowledge of swimming, but is perfectly willing to embarrass himself by showing off this lack of knowledge.

"Don't get the wrong idea. Track athletes have great respect for what Phelps has accomplished." That's nice of them. I'm sure swimmers have respect for track athlete's as well. What on earth does that have to do with the argument against Phelps being the greatest Olympic athlete of all time?

Mr. Hersh, the bottom line is you should be embarrassed your name is on this article. It is totally lacking factual research and quite frankly, is just lazy writing.

Phelps will be, if he isn't already, the greatest Olympian ever.

Beijing is his 3rd games, and he's only 23. He qualified for the Sidney 2000 games as a skinny 15 year old, where he made it through the heats and semis in the 200 fly final, finishing 5th overall, which is quite respectable. None of the other 200 flyers from Sidney made it to Beijing.

In Athens, he won 6 golds and 2 bronzes. He set a world record in the 400 IM, and Olympic records in 3 other individual events. One of the bronzes was in the 200 free, the event in which his Beiijing win was most dominant. The other bronze was in the ill-fated 400 free relay that Gary Hall was denied his rightful place in, and which Phelps avenged in 2008.

Phelps is motivated to improve where he has any weaknesses. He once had poor turns. Now his turns are the best in the world. He once was weaker in the freestyle and breastroke than in the fly; now he is the most dominant freestyler and IMer. In fact, his breastroke splits were faster than all the other finalists in both the 400 IM and 200IM Beijing finals.

Phelps could have won both the backstroke events. In 2007, he was ranked 2nd in the world at both distances. He hasn't swum them since, because they weren't in his program for Beijing. It would have been foolish with his busy schedule to have any more doubles in the same sessions.

I am guessing that we will see him swim different events in London in 2012, just because he can.

The track & field comparisons offered by Hersh are weak. The diversity of Phelps' talent go well beyond the Carl Lewis mold of 100+200+ long jump. Imagine if Carl Lewis or Jesse Owens had also won the 110M or 400M hurdles because of how different the skills and training are, and how much time they take from training for the other events.

As for being a great Olympian, how many times did Carl Lewis give up his spot on the relay final for one of his teammates to get a medal? Phelps did that for Ian Crocker in Athens.

Spitz ought to be on the list, too, perhaps right behind Phelps, for the classy way he has handed the torch of inspiration to the new generation.

Hersh is the kind of journalist who wants to attract readers with mindless controversy just because he thinks it wins him attention. If I spend my life with none of that kind of attention, I will die happy and proud.

Philip, on what basis do u have to say that michael phelps is not even in the top 5 of the greatest olympians? An even more outrageous comment would be to say that swimming does not use as much effort as other sports, and its "easier" to get 8 gold medals in swimming in one games. You evidently have never done anything close to competitive swimming, and you have no idea the effort that goes into every single race. I am personally apalled by your article on michael phelps, and I for one now know to never trust your opinions or read your articles ever again.


In line with the other readers, you know absolutely nothing about swimming. This was a baseless and ingnorant attempt to get people's attention since you obvioulsy lack writing skills. Get in the pool and try to swim 1500 meters (about what Phelps' warm up distance is right before a race) and tell me that swimming is easy on your body.

Phelps' versatility is ridiculous as almost all elite swimmers train one stroke and at most 2 distances. If backstroke, butterfly and freestyle are so similar, why is the fastest 100 meter freestyler not the fastest 100 meter backstroker or butterflier or vice versa? Again, please do some actual research and gain a basic knowledge for the sport before trying to write an article. I really can't believe the L.A. Times posted in this.

"It is easy to win multiple medals in swimming"? If that is the case, then why did it take 36 years for someone to break Mark Spitz's record? And even someone as great as Mark Spitz only swam 2 strokes. Even in these Olympic games, there were rarely any swimmers who specialized in all 4 strokes besides Michael Phelps.
And it is unfair to say that swimming isn't as physically demanding. If the sport of gymnastics is so demanding, then how are the athletes able to compete on 6 or 4 appratuses during the course of 1 1/2 -2 hours? All sports require physical and mental toughness and Michael Phelps has certainly proved that he is capable of both. Michael Phelps has accomplished something in these games that take other athletes decades to do. An athlete's greatness shouldn't simply be based on longevity, but on their ability to inspire and their attitude.
What Michael Phelps has accomplished isn't a small feat, and it was the product of much determination and intense training.
It's just such a shame that a sports spectator like yourself would try to downplay the magnitude of his success when you would probably ever amount to something that is equally as great.

Mr. Hersh, as much as I enjoyed seeing your opinion in print, I'm afraid I find your argument against Michael Phelps to be lacking in both credibility and class.

I'm not sure why you feel you have the authority to judge which sports are more difficult physically than others. Have you competed (and I mean at an NCAA or higher level) in all of the sports you mention in this column? The statement that it is "easy" to win multiple medals may have been misstated. I'm certain you meant to say that there are more opportunities and races in which a swimmer could win medals compared to, say, beach volleyball. I will most readily agree with you there, but then, if that were true, the same theory must hold for track & field. The truth behind that statement is simple; if it is so easy, why isn't everyone doing it?

Because they can't. The human body is alike in that, whether it's swimming or track, it has limits. And they aren't world records for nothing, Mr. Hersh. Technology may have come a long way, but for heaven's sake, the suit doesn't do the swimming for you, and I don't see everyone wearing it breaking a world record. I certainly don't think you could don the suit and break one, though I invite you to give it a try.

Simply put, I think it's honorable to have a differing opinion, but the way you present yours lacks respect for a sport you clearly don't understand.

Mr. Hersh,
I just read your article about how Michael Phelps is overrated in your opinion. I understand and respect the fact that you are entitled to your opinion, but I also have an opinion of my own and I think it might be of interest to you. I swam competitively from the age of 12 to the age of 19, during that time I was friends with a lot of above average athletes, who at would give me crap about swimming being easy. To that I would say "Come join me at the pool for a work out, and see how easy it is." I've extended this challenge to anyone who's said that, including my current girlfriend who ran track all the way through college and competed in the heptathlon. By the end of one work out, she was so tired she had trouble washing her hair because lifting her arms was so hard. I'm not saying swimming is tougher than track, but I am saying that it's very short sided to think that one thing isn't as tough as another. Comparing two completely different sports is ridiculous, like comparing apples to oranges. For instance, in swimming you use your upper body a lot more than in running. It's impossible to compare them, but its not impossible to respect both of them for what they are: Amazing tests of athletic prowess. While it is your perogative not to put Phelps in your top 5, I think your credibility and your sanity could be questioned for our decision to ignore one of the most impressive athletic feats of our lifetimes. If you don't think swimming is that hard or that impressive, come on out to the pool for a workout, we'll see how you feel about swimming after.

Apparently, you in your infinite ignorance have your head up your proverbial tailend. You seem to be fine with sitting on your butt discussing swimming as if it a mere tidly winks game. You are clueless. Do the world a favor and quit your job. You know nothing about what it takes to be a competitive swimmer or any other competitive athlete, obviously. And who are you, a non-athlete, to comment on the Olympics? I don't see you there. I don';t see you beating Micheal Phelps, or anyone esle for that matter. Only thing you seem to beat is your gums talking out your tail. Go do what he has done and then you have the right to speak on the subject.



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