first. It is hard to compete at an elite level in swimming because it only happens once ever 4 years. the olympics is the elite competition for swimming. Can you name two other elite swimming competions in america without having to look them up? I really don't think so.
Second we are in america not australia. who cares if it is a big deal over there. Soccer is a big deal everywhere except for here. Football is only as big as it is here, not australia or europe. so what sport is big in australia or any other country is irrelevant to this topic.
Third. winning 8 gold medals at the olympics is a unheard of feat, however, it doesn't neccesarily make you a real athlete. would you consider an competitor who won 8 gold medals in archery a real athlete? Just saying that because it is an olympic event doesn't mean it requires extreme athletisism.
I am not attacking you in any way, just playing devils advocate. I was/am tired of hearing about michael phelps and swimming See if you really care in a year. Before michael phelps came around how many people were constantly calling michael spitz god. None. And that is how it will be in this case, at least until 2012.
PS michael phelps would only have 7 medals if it weren't for his teammates who won the relay race for him.