Watching him out-touch Milorad Cavic by a 1/100th of a second during the 100-meter butterfly final to take his seventh gold medal was historic, cheer-at-the-screen fun. The same can be said of 41-year-old Dara Torres (she's 41 for God's sake!), who took a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle, barely beaten by Germany's Britta Stephan.
It's heady stuff that almost makes one forget the brutal politics of the host country.
With the games, the Chinese rulers have exhibited their trademark corporation-loving iron fist policies by quickly suppressing dissent (especially if you're inclined to publicly remind people about the decades-long crack down in Tibet) and transforming Beijing into a near-perfect police state.
Their efforts feature roughly 300,000 surveillance cameras monitoring everyone on and off the city's streets, an estimated 100,000 security officers backing up the cameras and a virtual elimination of the grassroots and professional press with the censuring of Internet access. It all gives a fascist vibe to the Beijing game's slogan, "One World One Dream."
While the stream of sound-bite profiles coming from NBC and the other major American media outlets (Democracy Now! is a notable exception) is about as mentally stimulating as making ice cubes, the athletic drama and subsequent personality features are not completely vapid.
Clearly the Orwellian dystopia that is playing out among Beijing's residents - a drama their rulers want you to forget with their awesome birds nest-like stadium and cutting-edge aquatics venue - is not what Phelps, Torres and all the rest of the Olympic athletes symbolize.
So, what are they representing? National glory and patriotic medal-count gloating? Sure, on a largely superficial level, but there's a depth here that needs to be distilled and cherished.
Phelps, Torres and their fellow Olympic athletes share one great accomplishment that we can all draw from, whether we're an affluent lake-view homeowner or a gang banger looking for a way out: they lead by positive, graceful and life-affirming example.
It takes a dedication to discipline - bolstered by family support and energized by respect for ones self and others - to become an Olympian. It's a simple formula for fulfillment that we can all use, no matter how grand or humble our dreams.