The eight days of Olympic swimming competition ended Saturday night at the Athens Summer Games. And the big star was American Michael Phelps. On Sunday he met with members of the media in Athens to reflect on the achievements and talk about what lies ahead.
Michael Phelps did not win a $1 million bonus offered by one of his sponsors (Speedo) if he could tie the record of seven gold medals in one Olympics, achieved by fellow-American swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972. But he did win more medals than anyone else in a non-boycotted Summer Games - eight of them in all, with six gold and two bronze.
His golds came in the 100 and 200-meter butterfly, 200 and 400-meter individual medley, the 4-by-100 medley relay and the 4-by-200 meter freestyle relay. His bronze medals were in the 200-meter freestyle and 4-by-100 meter freestyle relay.
All told, including preliminaries, Michael Phelps Swam in 17 races, and was first in 13 of them. He broke nine world, Olympic or American records.
In a secluded setting at the Athens Tennis club across from Panathinaiko Stadium, with locusts buzzing above him in the trees, Phelps was first asked if he had had time to reflect on his remarkable achievement.
"It's starting to sink in more and more," he replied. "I mean it's everything I wanted and everything I dreamed of and I've had a blast doing it. You know, being back where the modern Olympics started, being in Athens, Greece with the crowds they had here, and the support we had here, it was incredible and I couldn't ask for anything more."
Phelps was asked if he ever had any doubt about what he could achieve. "I wanted to go out and I wanted swim as fast as I could swim," he said. "We prepared for these games and this experience for the past four years. And once I got here, I got in the water and I did what I do best. I raced. And I raced the other competitors, and I did the best times and won medals and I can't ask for anything else
For the 19-year-old Michael Phelps this will be the first full week he has taken off from swimming, and he plans to see other Olympic events and have fun. He also looks forward to getting home to Baltimore, in the Eastern U.S. state of Maryland near Washington, D.C., where he's gotten the nickname the Baltimore Barracuda.
Not long afterward, Phelps will head to college at the University of Michigan, where he will continue training. However, since he has accepted sponsorship money, he will not be allowed to compete for his college swim team. Phelps is a huge sports fan so he hopes to perhaps study sports marketing or sports management.
Near the end of his session with the media, a female reporter from the United States asked Phelps how he felt now that he was the country's newest sports sex symbol. That caught him by surprise.
"All this is a new experience for me," he laughed. "Winning a gold medal, getting more attention in the sport. I don't know how to answer that, but it's first time I've been asked that question."
And the question many wanted answered is, since he fell short by only one, will Michael Phelps try for a record-equaling seven gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
"I wouldn't count anything out. I think it would be great just having the opportunity and the chance to be able to go for such an amazing record like that," he said. "Not that many people have that opportunity. And I'm thankful to be able to have the right support system, have the best people on my side to support me and help me through it. I would definitely keep all options open for the next four years."