LONDON — The first London Olympics gold medals in swimming will be awarded Saturday evening. Most eyes will be on American Michael Phelps as he tries to add to his legacy.
In 2008 in Beijing, Michael Phelps became the first athlete to win eight gold medals at a single Olympic Games. Four years earlier at the Athens Olympics he won six gold and two bronze medals.
He plans to swim in seven events in London, and if he wins medals in three, he will break the all-time record for total Olympic medals of 18 held by former Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina.
Phelps said at a news conference here it’s the media that is obsessed with his medal tally.
“You know, you guys are the ones that keep bringing the medal count up. I’ve never once in my career said anything about medal counts. You know I’m here to swim as fast as I can. And if I do that, that’s all that matters. Everything else will fall into place, and I know that. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, the only person that I can control is myself. So I’m going to get in the water and race as hard as I can, and if a record happens, it happens,” Phelps said.
Phelps did say it is hard for him to grasp his own incredible achievements in the pool.
“I don’t think everything I’ve done throughout my career has really set in. But I think over time and, you know, once I retire everything will start to set in more and more, and it will mean a lot more,” Phelps said.
US swimmer Michael Phelps poses after receiving the trophy of the greatest olympic athlete of all time after winning gold in the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 4, 2012 in London.
London 2012 Olympic Games on August 4, 2012 in London. Phelps brought his Olympic swimming career to a close in style, winning a record 18th gold medal as the United States stormed to victory in the 4x100m medley relay.
US swimmer Michael Phelps (C) reacts with teammates Brendan Hansen, Nathan Adrian and Matthew Grevers after they competed in the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the swimming event at the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 4, 2012 in London.
Michael Phelps of the U.S. swims the butterfly leg of the men's 4x100m medley relay final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre August 4, 2012.
Michael Phelps of the U.S. celebrates winning gold in the men's 100m butterfly final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre, August 3, 2012.
United States' Michael Phelps displays his gold medal for the men's 100-meter butterfly swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Friday, Aug. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
United States' Michael Phelps poses with his gold medal for the men's 4x200-meter freestyle relay swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, July 31, 2012.
From left, Michael Phelps, Conor Dwyer, Ricky Berens and Ryan Lochte pose with their gold medals for the men's 4x200-meter freestyle relay swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in London, July 31, 2012.
Michael Phelps competes in the men's 4x200-meter freestyle relay swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, July 31, 2012.
Michael Phelps waits to receive his silver medal for the men's 200-meter butterfly swimming final at the Aquatics Centre in the Olympic Park during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, July 31, 2012.
Michael Phelps displays his eighth gold medal after the men's 4x100-meter medley relay final at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Michael Phelps competes in the 100-meter butterfly at the Indianapolis Grand Prix swimming meet in Indianapolis, March 29, 2012.
Michael Phelps and his mother Debbie Phelps attend the Heart Truth's Red Dress Collection during Fashion Week in New York, February 8, 2012.
Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps posing in the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in Long Beach, Calif. (Jan 2008 file photo)
His longtime coach Bob Bowman sat next to Phelps in the packed news conference and was asked what makes Michael so special.
“Perhaps his greatest attribute is his psychological ability to focus under pressure and ability to use his emotional energy wisely,” Bowman said.
Phelps will have to use that energy wisely in his opening event at these Olympics - the grueling 400-meter individual medley, which includes all four strokes - back, butterfly, breast and freestyle. His biggest challenger in that race is expected to be teammate Ryan Lochte, who beat Phelps in two events at last year’s World Championships.
This is Lochte’s third Summer Games and he has won six Olympic medals - three gold, one silver and two bronze.
Lochte said he cannot be focused on just beating Phelps.
“Michael’s just one person. There’s a bunch of other swimmers across the world that I’ve got to worry about. So I mean I’m just doing what I normally do and I race. And I am just going to go up on the blocks and race and have fun. If Michael’s right there with me, then he’s right there with me. But I can’t just rely on just one person,” Lochte said.
The new sensation for the U.S. swimming team is Missy Franklin. She qualified for four individual events at only 17 years old - the 100- and 200-meter backstroke and 100- and 200-meter freestyle -- and she’s also expected to swim in relay races.
She said she’s had a hard time channeling her energy at her first Olympics.
“It’s been so much fun. The day we first got here and we had all our uniforming [getting Team USA Olympic uniforms], I was literally going off the walls. I was running around and like giving everyone hugs. And it’s definitely hard to control that energy but I know that I need to do that and keep that energy conserved for when it really matters which is right before I race,” Franklin said.
USA Swimming believes it has a strong team at these Olympics, which will try to prove it is the best in the world over eight days of finals.