American swimmer Michael Phelps is seeking to navigate uncharted
territory. For his second straight Olympics, the 23-year-old Phelps is
aiming to win eight gold medals to surpass the record seven that
fellow-American swimmer Mark Spitz won in 1972. As VOA's Jim Stevenson
reports, Phelps is well on his way to completing his lofty ambition.
say Michael Phelps' quest is a mission impossible. But no other
swimmer is coming into the Beijing Olympics with the conditioning and
records that Phelps possesses.
Phelps secured his eight-race
Olympic schedule by winning the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S.
swimming trials last Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. To surpass Mark
Spitz, Phelps says he has to overcome just one competitor in Beijing -
"You never know what can happen," said Phelps. "The
only person I can worry about is myself. And, if I can prepare myself
the best way that I can, then that is really all I can ask. If I go in
there and I do a best time and I still get beat, that is all I can ask
for. So, I am trying to prepare myself the best way I can. And just
go out there and swim fast."
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.
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 minutes at the national championships. Four
months later in Japan, he lowered the mark at the World Championships
by 34-100ths of one second (1:54.58). Phelps was named the 2001 USA
Swimmer of the Year.
The two-time Olympian became the first
athlete ever to win eight medals total at a non-boycotted Olympic
Games, collecting six gold and two silvers in 2004 in Athens. Phelps
set four individual world records and won seven gold medals at the 2007
World Championships to become the winningest athlete in World
Phelps says his success and experience has prepared him well for Beijing.
now, I am more relaxed than I was in 2004 going into the Olympics," he
said. "After going through everything I had been through in the last
four years, it helped me prepare a little bit better for these games
coming up and really understand what is going to happen. Before
Athens, I was (like a) deer in the headlights, and did not really know
what to expect."
Phelps has set his best times in all of his
events since March 2007. At the recent U.S. swimming trials, he
lowered the world record in the 400-meter individual medley (to 4:05.25
minutes). His fans expect to see more records, and Michael Phelps has
no doubt that he can improve on all of his results.
"I do not
think anything is too high. The only way for you to limit yourself is
if you put a limit on yourself. The sky is the limit," Phelps said. "
And the more you use your imagination, the farther you will go. I
think anything is possible. I set very high goals for myself. And I
work as hard as I can to get there."
The talented Phelps began
swimming at the age of seven. Four years later, he started training
under his current coach Bob Bowman at his Baltimore, Maryland, swim
club. Bowman has watched and guided Phelps' steady improvement over
the years. He says the past four years have been especially impressive.
the two areas where Michael has improved the most are, number one, his
physical strength," Bowman said. "And that is a result of a much more
intense strength-training program since Athens. And the other area
where he really has improved the most is his breaststroke. It has gone
from being a stroke that was quite weak in Athens to being a strength
Michael Phelps will be one of the busiest athletes in
Beijing, as he is scheduled to swim five individual events and possibly
three relays in nine days. Including heats, semifinals and finals, he
could swim as many as 20 races. At the end, Phelps could be standing
as the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.