It's always been said that the Olympic Games belong to the world. But make no mistake. This young man wants these Games to be his.
Michael Phelps is here to make history. In fact, he already has. At 19, his unparalleled stroke has led to three world records. His goal at these Games — a chance to win an unprecedented eight gold medals in one Olympics.
Eight. One more than 1972 swimming superstar Mark Spitz. Phelps is eager for the comparison to cease and for the Games — his own history — to begin.
I sat down with the Baltimore teenager in the Athens Olympic Village.
You remember the first time anyone compared you to Mark Spitz?
Last year, probably.
To some of us, of a certain age, he's a young man. But to you, he was an historic figure, almost, right?
He's the icon of swimming. He's done something that no one else has ever been able to touch.
Until now. Phelps will swim in five individual events — something no American Olympian has ever done. Add the relays, and Phelps could be in the water for eight straight days.
He's been submerged in the sport all of his life: his sisters swam before him — one, Whitney almost made the 1996 Olympic team. His parents, once high school sweethearts, are now divorced — both have been supportive, although Michael says his mom has been heroic — a life of sacrifice and love.
Phelps has the heart and the body to fulfill his dream — 6'’4", stretched over a long torso, with a wingspan of 6'7". Plus, a mental focus rare for someone his age.
His appeal has made him the star of these Games. Speedo is offering him a $1,000,000 bonus if he ties Spitz's record. And remember: all this before a single medal has been won.
"It's a little extra incentive, I guess you could say to work towards. But, I mean, none of this happens without swimming in the pool," says Phelps.
And swimming is what he does — every day, five hours in the pool, seven miles in the water, burning 3,000 calories. No days off. No surrender.
Out of the pool? Sleeping — and eating. A lot — 8,000 calories each day.
By all accounts, this Baltimore teenager is unfazed by all the attention — lanky and low-key — living at home with mom, paying mind to her curfew.
Though, there is a souped-up Cadillac Escalade his mother let him buy used as a reward for hard work. But he knows its time to put the toys aside.
His next ride — a pool in Athens. History is waiting.
"I'm living a dream," says Phelps.