All righty, you asked for it — and I do mean that; we got a boatload of e-mails begging us to address this — and because it’s almost the weekend, I’m going to give the people what they want.

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Apparently this pose is an homage to a similar cover Mark Spitz posed for after he won his seven gold medals. But I haven’t seen that cover**, so I can only judge whether I think this one works. And, bless Phelpsie’s proficient soul, I don’t believe it does. For starters, all that red is making my head hurt; plus, with the medals laid out that way, whenever it catches my eye I think he’s wearing a halter top.

Let’s not ignore the gold-adorned elephant in the room, though: It’s not… the best photo of Michael Phelps. And I generally dig the endearingly goofy thing in guys, but he’s exponentially goofier-looking here — and, in fact, in that shaggy-haired Olympic headshot NBC kept using — than when you see him in motion. Which is probably as it should be; the kid’s job is to train, eat, swim, win, not be a pin-up-quality dreamboat. I personally think he’s perfectly cute and he just seems sort of uncomfortable in this shot, but it also doesn’t even do justice to his remarkable physique. Which ought to be like shooting fish in a barrel, especially since Sports Illustrated is known for its top-notch photography — you’d think they could’ve massaged something slightly better out of this idea. I mean, hey, every year they put out a thick, loving tribute to boobs and asses in bikinis; if they’d just devote that much TLC to Phelps, I think SI’s female readers (and yes, we are out there) would be hiding this cover in our office drawers so that we could look at it on a rough day and be reminded of all that is good in the world. Sigh. Maybe ESPN’s magazine will do it better.

** Aha, here’s the Spitz cover. I think it’s better — helped by the thin medal chains. Although he does look a tiny bit like he wants to eat my face, but all that muscle oil is working for him.  I guess it’s only fair that Spitz should come out ahead here in SOME way.