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American Swimming Sensation Hopes for Gold at Olympics - 2004-08-04

American swimmer Michael Phelps could tie or break swimming legend Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in one Olympics when he competes this month in Athens.

Michael Phelps will be one of the busiest athletes in Athens, swimming six individual events and possibly three relays in eight days. Including heats, semifinals and finals, he could swim as many as 20 races.

The 19-year-old will swim the men's 200-meter freestyle, 100 and 200 butterfly, and 200 and 400-meter individual medley races.

At last month's U.S. team trials, Phelps became the first American to qualify for six individual events by winning four events and finishing second in two. After the meet, the 1.93-meter-tall swimmer decided to drop the 200-meter backstroke from his Olympic line-up.

The talented Phelps began swimming at the age of seven and four years later he started training under his current coach Bob Bowman at his Baltimore, Maryland swim club.

When he was 15, Phelps got his first taste of international competition at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where he became the youngest U.S. male Olympian swimmer since 1932. He finished fifth in the 200-meter butterfly, setting a U.S. national age group record.

Phelps hopes having already competed in an Olympics will help him stay focused in Athens.

"I think I have a lot more experience now and I have more of a feel of what to expect and what the atmosphere is going to be like, so hopefully leading up to the games I'll be ready," he says.

In 2001, Michael Phelps began his assault on the record books, becoming the youngest swimmer to break a world record in winning the 200-meter butterfly in 1:54.92 at the national championships. Four months later in Japan, he lowered the mark at the World Championships to 1:54.58. Phelps was named the 2001 USA Swimmer of the Year.

In 2003 in Barcelona, he created a stir when he became the first swimmer ever break five records at the World Championships.

Phelps broke the 200-meter butterfly record in the semifinals and went on to win the final. He set another record in the 200-meter individual medley semifinals and lowered it again in winning the finals. Phelps also set the world record in the 100-meter butterfly semifinals, only to take second to fellow-American Ian Crocker who lowered the record during finals. Phelps also won the 400-meter individual medley in a world record time.

Based mostly on that performance, Phelps was once again named USA swimmer of the year. He also won the Sullivan Award for best U.S. amateur athlete.

Phelps lowered his 400-meter individual medley world record again in winning the event and three others at the 2003 Mutual of Omaha "Duel in the Pool" meet, a head-to-head competition between American and Australian swimmers. He reset the 400 individual medley world record once again at last month's U.S. Olympic trials.

At the 2002 Pan Pacific Championships Phelps added to his international medal count, winning two individual events and another gold as a member of the 400-meter medley relay. Phelps also finished second in the 200-meter butterfly and was on the American record-breaking 800-meter freestyle relay team.

The 20-time national champion became the youngest American male to turn professional at 16 years old when he signed with swimwear company Speedo. Speedo will give Phelps a $1 million bonus if he equals Mark Spitz's record of seven Olympic gold medals.

Away from the pool, Phelps is a spokesperson for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and works with students in the Baltimore-area school system. He is also a volunteer assistant with the Loyola College swim team.

Even though many are focusing on the possibility of Michael Phelps equaling or breaking Spitz's gold medal haul, he has said his goal is to win at least one Olympic gold medal, but he likes the challenge ahead.

"It makes it more exciting to really be able to be compared to the icon of swimming, the icon of the Olympics really," he adds. "It's extremely exciting and an honor."

Phelps, who currently holds three world records, the 200-meter butterfly and the 200 and 400-meter individual medley, is looking forward to competing against the best swimmers in the world in Athens and he won't make any predictions on who are the big favorites.

"Well, it could be a lot of different people," he explains. "You know I think there are a lot of people who have strong single events in the world and it's just going to be a matter of whose day it is and who's on."

After the Athens Olympics, Michael Phelps will attend the University of Michigan where he will continue training under coach Bob Bowman, who will be the new head coach of the swimming program there.