- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

ANNAPOLIS (AP) | Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps took a victory lap through the Maryland General Assembly on Thursday and endorsed keeping the Preakness Stakes horse race in Baltimore - though he said he'd never attended the race.

Mr. Phelps was in Annapolis to be honored for his record-setting eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympic Games.

While at the Capitol, he ventured into the ongoing debate over the Preakness, saying he supports keeping the second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown in Baltimore.

“To have it leave Baltimore, I can't really see that happening … that would be something that would be, I think, devastating,” he said.

The swimmer arrived in Annapolis shortly after aides to Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, said Maryland could lose the Preakness because the event's owner is going through bankruptcy proceedings.

On Thursday, lawmakers gave Mr. Phelps a 30-second standing ovation with thunderous applause and whistles in the House of Delegates. Delegates later met with him privately where aides said he posed for pictures and shook hands.

Mr. Phelps has won 14 gold medals in two Olympic Games.

“No one has ever won 14 gold medals, no one,” said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel Democrat. “To put this in some perspective, there are some countries that have competed in the Olympics since the beginning of the modern Olympics that have not won 14 gold medals.”

Mr. Phelps grew up in the Baltimore suburb of Towson and graduated from Towson High School.

He trained at a Baltimore swimming club until after the 2004 Olympics, when he moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., to follow his coach Bob Bowman who'd taken a position at the University of Michigan.

He owns a home in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood and is training in Maryland for the 2012 Olympics.

“I've been gone the last four years. It feels good to be back in the great state of Maryland,” he told lawmakers.

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