With 14 Olympic and 17 world championship gold medals already in his possession, it is hard to imagine what Michael Phelps might have left to accomplish in a pool.
But the 24-year-old has arrived in Rome for the world championships, which start on Sunday, with unfinished business. What that business might be, Phelps has refused to say. Not even Phelps's mother is privy to the information that is written on a piece of paper and sealed in an envelope, the contents known only to her son and long-time coach Bob Bowman.
"When I retire I want to be able to look back at my career and say I did everything I wanted to do,” Phelps said. “I still have times I want to hit, I still have other personal goals I want to achieve before I quit the sport. I've been writing my goals on a piece of paper and mailing them to Bob for 13 years now.
“It's something I do at the beginning of the season and Bob helps me get to where I want to go. I'm not going to say any specifics, that is between Bob and I. We're the only ones who know, my mom doesn't even know.”
Some details, however, are sure to be revealed in Rome where Phelps will focus on the shorter events. At the 2007 worlds in Melbourne, Phelps bagged seven golds but he has set himself much more modest goals in Rome where he will swim in just three individual events — the 200m freestyle, 100m butterfly and 200m butterfly.