(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
BEIJING (AP) - In some ways, Michael Phelps is just your typical
He hates getting up early. He wolfs down enormous amounts of
pizza. He loves texting with friends, listening to hip-hop on his
iPod, or just cruising around in a pimped-out ride.
Then he dives in the water.
Nothing typical there.
In capturing the 200-meter butterfly and 800 freestyle relay
with his fourth and fifth world records in as many races in the
Beijing Games, Phelps eclipsed a group including Mark Spitz and
Carl Lewis to become the winningest Olympian of all time with 11
That leaves only one other thing for Phelps to do before he
leaves China: win all eight of his events to take down Spitz's
record of seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games. He's already
avenged his only two losses at Athens four years ago, when he won
"It might be once in a century you see something like this,"
teammate Aaron Peirsol said. "He's not just winning, he's
absolutely destroying everything. It's awesome to watch."
To hear Phelps talk, you wouldn't know it. He's turned a
gathering of the world's best swimmers into his own personal meet,
just him against the clock, easily lugging along the weight of
When Phelps climbed out of the pool Tuesday after matching
Spitz, Lewis & Co. with gold in the 200 freestyle, he unzipped his
skintight suit and ambled over to chat with his coach.
"Well, you're tied," Bob Bowman reminded him.
"That's pretty cool," Phelps replied.
Phelps races to win, then moves on. He doesn't pause to
appreciate the moment. There'll be plenty of time for that later.
"It's his physical ability, it's his ability to race, it's his
ability to keep focused, to get excited when he needs to and to
come down when he needs to come down," said Mark Schubert, head
coach of the U.S. team.
Phelps didn't even know until earlier this year that he could
become the winningest Olympian ever coming off of his six-gold
performance in 2004. It took him just four days in Beijing to pull
into a tie with Spitz, Lewis, Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina and
Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi.
"To be tied for the most Olympic golds of all time, with those
names, in Olympic history ...," Phelps said, before pausing and
letting out a slight chuckle.
"The Olympics have been around for so many years, that's a
pretty amazing accomplishment."
He's sure not going to get all worked up about it, though. He'll
leave that to others.
"If you're not involved in the sport, I'm not sure you can
fully appreciate it," said Jack Bauerle, who coaches the U.S.
women's team. "He is way past anything you have seen. He is
Away from the pool, Phelps is a creature of habit. He struggles
to wake up in the morning, and loves to take naps in the middle of
the afternoon. He usually gets two massages a day and takes ice
baths to help his body recover from the grueling schedule. He
feasts on gargantuan amounts of pasta and pizza between races.
"Lots of carbs," he said.
When it's time to race, there's no one better. Which is why it's
hard to imagine anyone beating him in Beijing.
"I don't think Michael will let his guard down until the last
relay race," said his mom, Debbie Phelps. "I don't think he has a
comfort zone at all until the whole meet is over, the whole Olympic
Games. He will not let his guard down because there's always
someone out there."
Phelps dominated the 400 individual medley and cleared his
toughest hurdle when the 400 free relay team, anchored by Jason
Lezak, pulled off an astonishing comeback over the last 25 meters
to beat the French by a fingertip.
No one was close to him in the 200 free, either. Phelps made a
perfect dive off the blocks and already had a clear lead by the
time his body - perfectly suited for swimming with its long torso,
large wingspan and big, flexible feet - re-emerged from the water.
Shortly after the first flip turn, he already was a full body
length ahead. Phelps steadily pulled away and touched the wall in 1
minute, 42.96 seconds, breaking the mark he set at last year's
world championships by nearly a full second.
By the time silver medalist Park Tae-hwan lunged for the end of
the pool, Phelps was already looking at the scoreboard.
"I can copy him, but I don't think I could be as good as
Phelps," said Park, a gold medalist himself in the 400 free. "It
is my honor to compete with him."
His performance is even more remarkable when one considers the
workload he takes on at a meet such as this: 17 races covering more
than two miles, often against swimmers who specialize in one or two
"They've been resting all week and just gearing themselves up
for one race, where every time Michael gets up on the block, he has
to gear himself up for his performance that night or that
morning," Debbie Phelps said.
Nothing spurs Phelps on more than defeat. The fear of failure
defines all the great ones, from Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, and
there's nothing different about this guy.
In the 200 free, he avenged his only individual loss at the last
Olympics. Phelps, only 19 then, finished third on that warm Greek
evening behind Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband in what was
quickly dubbed the "Race of the Century." Four years later, he
has no equal.
"I hate to lose," he said. "When I lose a race like that, it
motivates me even more to try to swim faster."