Tuesday, September 19|
Phelps exceeding expectations
Scripps Howard News Service
INDIANAPOLIS -- Since becoming the youngest American male swimmer to
qualify for the Olympics in 68 years Saturday night, Michael Phelps
sprouted three inches and smashed five more age-group records.
Actually Phelps is still a gangly 6-foot-3, and he didn't set any
records by finishing 20th in his 200-meter individual medley race
Sunday in the U.S. Olympic trials at the Indiana University
Natatorium. But given Phelps' otherworldly growth in and out of the
pool this year, no hyperbole can be considered too preposterous.
Not that Phelps' story needs any embellishment. The truth about the
always-grinning 15-year-old phenom from Towson, Md. is hard enough to
He hasn't lost to anyone his own age in any swimming event in three
years. He's cut more than seven seconds off his time in the 200-meter
butterfly in less than a year. His coach at the North Baltimore
Aquatic Club, Bob Bowman, has lost count of how many age-group records
"Maybe 20?" said Bowman, who's been coaching Phelps since he was
a 5-foot-3, 95-pounder four years ago. "It's a bunch of them."
After beating everyone in the 200 butterfly but world-record holder
Tom Malchow Saturday night, age-group records have suddenly lost their
significance. Phelps lowered his personal best three times this week,
and his finals time of 1:57.48 made him the fourth-fastest American
ever and the eighth-fastest in the world this year.
"I think he can drop more time," said Bowman. "How much I don't
No one knows how fast Phelps can go, partly because he is such an
anomaly. While barely-pubescent women Olympic swimmers are
commonplace, including 16-year-old Megan Quann and 17-year-old Kaitlin
Sandeno this year, boys usually have to wait until their late teens or
early 20s to have a legitimate shot at qualifying.
"Girls hit puberty much earlier than boys," said Gabe
Mazurkiewicz, who coached two teenage sisters, Dana and Tara Kirk, in
the Olympic trials. "They gain strength faster but still have their
small bodies. I've been in this business for almost 30 years and I've
never seen anything like (Phelps)."
Added Malchow: "Michael Phelps is awesome. He's way ahead of where
any other 'flyer has ever been at his age."
Conventional wisdom says that younger athletes will get psyched out
at their first Olympic trials. Then again conventional wisdom says
15-year-old boys aren't supposed to be here.
"Some of these kids are like Fastskin (the new high-tech
swimsuits)," said Neil Walker, who qualified for his first Olympic
team this year at age 24. "Fastskin sheds the water off and the kids
let everything slide off them the same way."
One possible reason the pressure doesn't get to Phelps is that he
might be too young to fully fathom it. After all, he's still just a
video-game playing, rap-music loving teenager who hasn't even taken
sophomore English yet.
Phelps sleeps nine hours a night and has grown four inches since
January. He lives in suburban Baltimore with his mom, a schoolteacher,
and his dad, a Maryland state trooper. He enjoys lacrosse and soccer
and used to be a big Baltimore Orioles fan, until recently.
"They traded all the great players, like B.J Surhoff," he said,
momentarily losing his ever-present grin.
Phelps started swimming at age seven, following the lead of his two
older sisters, including 20-year-old Whitney, who competed here in the
1996 Olympic trials. He has a girlfriend back in Maryland named
Carolyn, braces on his bottom teeth and shaves maybe once or twice a
But underneath the Generation Y veneer lies the heart of an intense
competitor. Although Phelps is disarmingly shy in interviews, he
possesses immense self-confidence.
Earlier this year, he revealed to his high school paper that one of
his goals was to make the 2000 Olympic team. Never mind that no other
American male had done so at such a precocious age since 13-year-old
Ralph Flanagan in 1932.
"I always thought about making it and how neat it would be," he
said. "But I didn't talk about it too much. I didn't want to jinx
Mission accomplished. Now what is he predicting in Sydney?
"To improve my time, then take whatever happens," he said,
smiling of course.
|Michael Phelps can't legally drive alone, but the 15-year-old has license to swim the 200 butterfly at the Olympic Games in Sydney after Saturday's second-place finish.|