Michael Phelps was strolling through the Olympic Village when he spotted three Russian female athletes — all of them taller than the 1.93m swimmer.
“Geez, I thought I was tall,” he said with a chuckle.
Preparing for what he insists will be his final Olympics, Phelps appears to be having a lot more fun heading into the London Games than he did at either Athens or Beijing, where he was under intense pressure to turn in the greatest performances in Olympic history.
“This is closure,” Phelps said on Thursday, sitting beside coach Bob Bowman in the largest conference room at the Main Press Centre. “Now it’s just a matter of how many toppings I want on my sundae.”
Several hundred media packed the room, including Olympic speedskating star Apolo Anton Ohno, who is now working for NBC and got in a question about how Phelps keeps things simple with all the distractions.
Actually, he seems to be having a blast. After Phelps walked in the room, he pulled out his cellphone and snapped a picture of all the reporters and cameras staring back at him, capturing another moment on his farewell tour.
“In Beijing, we were trying to conquer everything,” Phelps remembered. “We’re a lot more relaxed. We’re having fun.”
Not that he has a lot of time to chill in London. He is still swimming more events than anyone except teammate Missy Franklin: four individual races, and all three relays. The only change from China is Phelps’ giving up a chance to swim the 200m freestyle, feeling he would have a better chance at success with a slightly less strenuous program.
Besides, there is really nothing left to accomplish other than becoming the most decorated Olympian ever.
The 27-year-old Phelps has already become the first athlete to win eight golds at a single games, and the 14 golds in his career are far more than anyone else. The only record left to beat is total medals, the 18 won by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
Phelps is at 16 and should beat Latynina’s mark halfway through the eight-day swimming program, which began yesterday.
“This is the last competitive meet I’m going to have in my career,” Phelps said. “It’s big. It’s something I’ve never experienced. I’m going to have a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts this week.”
When Bowman was asked to assess what makes Phelps such a dominating swimmer, he pointed to his physical attributes (large feet and a long torso), family support, a superb work ethic and the greatest attribute — “his ability to focus under pressure.”
“If you checked off everything you wanted in a superstar athlete,” Bowman said, “he has all those.”