The Phelps Phenomenon
The backstory behind this living Olympic legend
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Du Toit: Courage and Determination

Google "Phelps" and the buzz is all too obvious. Headlines include:

"Phelps in gold-medal league of own" (San Diego Union Tribune)
"US Swimmers Riding Wave From Relay Win" (New York Times)
"Michael Phelps: 3 events, 3 world records, 3 golds" (Detroit Free Press)
"Phelps wins 10th, 11th golds of Olympic career" (Yahoo! News/AP)
"Nothing can stop Phelps now" (Yahoo! Sports)

It may suffice to take cognizance of these five headlines and leave it there, except Phelps, only 23 years old this year, is a truly fascinating champion.


Michael Fred Phelps was bred and raised in Baltimore, Md. He was born on June 30, 1985. At an early age he was diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. His older siblings Whitney and Hilary (who were already swimming) encouraged "M.P." to swim, and he began his career at age 7. His parents divorced when Michael was 9, and one year later, Phelps had broken a US age group record. Five Years later Phelps qualified for the 2000 Olympics (at 15 he was the youngest US male swimmer in almost 70 years). In 2003 Michael Phelps graduated from Towson High School.


The following year Phelps was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol near Salisbury, Md., and months later in 2004, Phelps started studies at the University of Michigan, majoring in sports marketing and management. Later that same year, Phelps went to Athens and won six golds and a bronze.

Phelps - a Record Label

Cut to the present and as of this moment (which means this statement is likely to be obsolete in a matter of days, if not hours), Phelps holds 25 individual world records (plus five relay records). Mark Spitz has one more individual world record at 26, and two more relay records (a total of 30 versus Spitz's 33).

Five of those 30 world records were set literally in the last 5 days.

These include the 400 meter Individual Medley (in 4:03.84) on Sunday, the 4x100 meter Freestyle Relay (in 3:08.24 -- a world record by almost 4 seconds) on Monday, the 200 meter Freestyle (in 1:42.96) on Tuesday, the 200 meter Butterfly (in 1:52.03) on Wednesday and the 4x200 meter Freestyle Relay (in 6:58.56), also on Wednesday. All the aforementioned events were swum in Beijing, at the present Olympic Games.


Tim Sullivan has named Phelps "The Sultan of Swimming," but no superlatives seem to do justice to this phenomenal athlete. Phelps manages to make the extraordinary seem ordinary. Described by some fondly as a "Freak," he is nevertheless well known to be an ordinary, down to earth, goofy guy-next-door personality. On land, before a race, Phelps' ritually listens to MP3 music (American rapper Young Jeezy is his favorite) to focus himself before an event.

Motivation Behind Swimming

Interestingly, Phelps' sister Whitney described swimming at one point as an attempt to "escape the yelling" going on between Phelps' policeman dad and schoolteacher mom. Australian Ian Thorpe (who with Pieter van den Hoogenband derailed Phelps' hopes of a seven medal haul in Athens) said eight gold medals at a single Olympics was unlikely. For motivation ahead of Beijing, Phelps memorized the quote verbatim.

Here's an extract from Ian Thorpe's comments upon arriving in Beijing: "I have said before that I don't think he can do the eight, and still believe that. Mind you, if there is any person on the planet who is capable, it is him. It's sad, but I just don't think it will happen."

Speaking recently about becoming the most successful Olympian in history (with 11 golds), Phelps said:

"I'm almost at a loss for words. Growing up I always wanted to be an Olympian. Now to be the most decorated Olympian of all time, it just sounds weird saying. It started setting in a little bit after the butterfly. I was just trying to focus on my next race, but I just kept thinking, 'Wow, greatest Olympian of all time.' It's a pretty cool title. I'm definitely honored."

For Phelps, three races remain: the 200 meter Individual Medley, 100 meter Butterfly and 400 meter Medley Relay. Associated Press writer Paul Newberry has described Phelps as "seemingly impervious to fatigue." Whether Phelps does the unthinkable or not, he is already regarded as "The Greatest Swimmer Ever." Hold your breath for more!
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2008/08/13 오후 7:41
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