Michael Phelps: Life in the fast lane
Updated: 2008-08-13 20:15:27 The deep gulps of air and fighting back of tears as Michael Phelps stood proudly upon the podium as US anthem the Star Spangled Banner rang around the Water Cube said it all. It is a sound the 23-year-old American swimmer knows all too well. After winning the Men's 200 meters Butterfly final -- Phelps's fourth gold medal of the Beijing Olympic Games, each on a world record time -another superlative can justifiably be added to the growing list of adjectives used to describe this amazing athlete: legend. Phelps powered his way into Olympic history at Beijing 2008 to become the first person to ever win 10 Olympic gold medals. "I just kept thinking wow, I'm the greatest Olympian of all time, It's a pretty great title. It's pretty neat, I'm definitely honored." "Listening to the anthem, with the medal around your neck is an amazing feeling," said Phelps, after his tenth record medal. "I am almost at a loss for words. Growing up I always wanted to be an Olympian." He is the classic wholesome all-American boy who, for an added twist of tension, even had the audacity to win the 200 meters Butterfly despite a goggle malfunction which affected his vision. "When my goggles filled up there was nothing I could do. All I could do at that point was swim. I tried to see something at the 150 wall. I tried to see the T on the bottom to judge my turn. I was more or less trying to count my strokes, hoping I was dead on. I'm just disappointed because I know I can go faster than that." Faster was precisely what Phelps and his colleagues in the USA Men's 4 x 200 Freestyle team did to add an 11th gold to his list an hour after clinching the all-important tenth. They shattered another world record ?C Michael's 30th - by slashing an amazing 4.68 seconds off their own previous world record. His 11 gold medals in total stand two clear of the previous best ?C the nine-gold-medal club consisting of four athletes: Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, Ukrainian gymnast Larysa Latynina, US swimmer Mark Spitz and sprinter Carl Lewis. "When you have an Olympic Gold medal, it stays with you forever. You're always an Olympic gold medalist. It's amazing and it definitely never gets old." Indeed by the time the Beijing 2008 swimming competition concludes Phelps could also become the first person ever to win eight gold medals at a single Olympic Games, surpassing Mark Spitz's seven at Munich in 1972 and ratcheting up his overall tally to 14 gold medals. Small wonder one of his friends sent him a cheeky text message after seeing Phelps step onto the podium for the tenth time: "Dude, how many times a day do I have to see your ugly face?"
At Athens 2004 Phelps took eight medals -- a feat only achieved by one other athlete, Russian gymnast Alexander Dityatin, in Moscow in 1980. Perhaps the most staggering thing is that, at 23 years old, Phelps is feasibly young enough to add more Olympic medals to his collection should he decide to carry on until London 2012. So who is Michael Fred Phelps and what makes him the greatest Olympian in history? Born in Baltimore in the US state of Maryland, Phelps ?C known as the Baltimore Bullet -- suffered Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as a teenager and trained at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club under coach Bob Bowman, who was later an assistant coach to the US swimming team at Athens 2004. He was a talented junior swimmer who became the youngest-ever US swimmer to compete in the Olympic Games when he represented his country at the age of 15 at the Sydney 2000 Games in the Men's 200 meters Butterfly. A few months later, at 15 years and nine months, he became the youngest man to set a swimming world record, again in the 200 meters Butterfly. His first World Championship gold medal came in 2001, but the big breakthrough year was 2003, when Phelps won four gold medals and two silver at the World Championships in Barcelona. At Athens 2004, Phelps extended that to six gold medals and two bronze (swimwear manufacturers Speedo offered Phelps one million dollars if he won all eight medals ?C an offer which has stayed on the table for Beijing 2008). Indeed a succession of lucrative sponsorship deals meant Phelps could no longer train as an amateur, so when Bowman moved to coach at the University of Michigan in 2004, Phelps followed too and trained at a local swimming club in Ann Arbor called Club Wolverine. Phelps has vowed not to work under any other coach than Bowman. "I don't think I would be where I am today with any other coach. He's always on top of things. We've been through a lot." He maintained his grip as the world's No. 1 swimmer by winning four gold and two silver at the 2005 World Championships and then six gold medals at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, Australia. Then came this week's incredible record-breaking feats. The bad news for Phelps's rivals is that he hasn't lost his thirst for more titles. "This is something we've been preparing for over the past four years. The hard work is paying off and it's starting to show." That is surely the understatement of Beijing 2008. Debate among sports columnists will rage about whether Phelps is the greatest Olympian of all time. Conjecture, of course ???? but the record book is firmly on his side.