- The Washington Times - Monday, August 18, 2008

BEIJING | That personal and private list of goals hatched by Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman after the Athens Olympics?

It remains personal and private. Sort of.

“It all happened this week,” Phelps said Sunday afternoon when asked to reveal the agenda for the Beijing Olympics.

If that’s the case, then the goal was breaking Mark Spitz’s record for the most gold medals in a single Olympics. Listening to Phelps two hours after he was a part of the 400-meter medley relay team, the only thing he didn’t accomplish was a faster time in the 200-meter butterfly or a world record in the 100-meter butterfly.

Phelps’ eight wins - five individual and three relays - produced seven world records, two sensationally close finishes and spectacular TV ratings. As the Olympics roll into the second week with no compelling U.S. story lines figuring to generate extraordinary interest, the talk will still be about Phelps.

How did he push Spitz aside?

What does he do for an encore?

About eclipsing Spitz, Phelps hopes he has paid proper public respect to the swimmer whose record stood for 36 years.

“I said it all along: I wanted to be the first Michael Phelps, not the second Mark Spitz,” Phelps said. “Never will I downplay his accomplishment and it was an amazing feat. Being able to have somebody like that to shoot for, it made those days when you were tired and didn’t want to be there easier when I would look to him and say, ‘I want to do this.’”

His encore will be at the London Olympics in 2012. The program of races might not be the same, but figure on another full week for Phelps, who will be 27.

“Michael Phelps - I can’t put it into words,” said Australian distance star Grant Hackett. “It can’t be described, the level of achievement he’s done here. We’ll never see it again. I just think you can’t emulate that in this day and age when a sport is so competitive and so close. I thought he could win six or seven and then, with a little bit of luck, get eight. And the 100 fly might have been that race. Just an incredible racer.”

How did he do it?

Superior physical talent is the most obvious reason Phelps was able to tear through the men’s field and break record after record, both individual and on the relays. But there were other factors:

• The pool. The Water Cube pool had 10 lanes, not the usual eight. The extra room reduced the waves in the swimming lanes, and gutters absorbed waves that reached the side.

Also, the pool depth was 3 meters, a meter deeper than other Olympic pools. According to research, a deeper pool pushes a wave’s turbulence toward the bottom.

• Ideal schedule: The shortest turnaround time for two finals was about 45 minutes. Compare that with Ryan Lochte having less than 30 minutes between the 200 back and 200 individual medley or Dara Torres having about 30 minutes between the 100 freestyle and the 400 medley relay.

• Weight training: After the Athens Games in 2004, coach Bob Bowman put Phelps on a weight-training regimen to build strength and endurance. In most of his races, Phelps was the fastest swimmer in the water over the final length of the pool.

That endurance was tested, though.

“After the semifinal of the 100 fly, I was absolutely just to the point,” Phelps said of what remained in the tank. “That was a tough day. One of the reasons I was able to close out is that I was able to rest so much. I had more downtime than I was used to and I sat in my bed watching movies or sleeping. I did nothing else.”

Savoring the experience

Before the Olympics started, Phelps attended a men’s swimmers-only meeting. This week, he recalled a story told by teammate Erik Vendt, a silver medalist in 2000 and 2004 who said he didn’t have much recollection of his previous Olympics experience.

Alarmed, Phelps vowed to chronicle, savor and remember every detail of his nine days of competition.

“They didn’t clearly remember a race or a medal stand,” Phelps said. “I wanted to make sure I took every single moment in, every single swim, every moment with my teammates so I could remember them.

“I’ve had so many great moments here in China. Those are moments I’ll never forget. I don’t want to forget anything that happened.”

Phelps’ Olympics experience continues until he departs later this week after a series of sponsorship opportunities. One of his sponsors, Speedo, has guaranteed a $1 million bonus for winning eight races.

Although his eight wins are what he will cherish, Phelps and his handlers surely will attempt to cash in on the record and try to make the sport more visible stateside.

“It’s really getting more awareness by the public,” he said. “It’s by far already started. It started four years ago and it’s continued over the last four years. With the help from our team and our coaching staff, this sport can take off even more than it has. That’s a goal that isn’t going to happen overnight but it will happen over time. That’s something I’m ready to be in for the long haul.”

That haul includes training and competing until London 2012.

Looking toward London

Before Phelps sets his sights on London, he will swim next summer in the U.S. championships in Indianapolis and the world championships in Rome.

The trip to Italy is nonnegotiable.

“Mom has told me I’d better make the team because she wants to go to Rome,” he said. “I have pressure from the mom. We’ll have to get back into it and see if we can make that happen.”

Starting next summer in Rome and continuing at the 2011 world championships in Shanghai, Phelps is likely to change the program for London based on the demands of his current program and his desire to try new events.

Those inside the sport say the definite races for London are the 200 butterfly, the 100 and 200 backstrokes and the three relays. That leaves two races among the choices of the 100 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 200 freestyle. He’ll drop the 200 and 400 intermediate medleys.

“I keep saying I want to go down and start sprinting but Bob isn’t so keen on that,” Phelps said.

Said Bowman: “I think we’ll have to see how keen he is on going to sprints - there’s training involved in that. It will be different. I think he can sprint but he’s more naturally suited to longer events. It will be a change, but a good one for him.”

After a vacation and a move back to the Baltimore area, Phelps will return to the pool.

“It’s going to be a fun four years,” he said. “Bob has said he wants to start fresh, do things he hasn’t done before, try new workouts and try new training methods. And we had one fun week for sure.”

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