Toppings on his sundae and beyond
Moments after Michael Phelps walked into his press conference he pulled a mobile phone from his pocket and began to take pictures of the crowd in front of him.india Updated: Jul 28, 2012 00:30 IST
Moments after Michael Phelps walked into his press conference he pulled a mobile phone from his pocket and began to take pictures of the crowd in front of him.
"Why not?" he asked as a ripple of laughter spread through the throng of journalists and cameramen.
"You guys are all taking pictures of me."
Phelps's career has just days to run. He is adamant that he will retire after the Games, and he is trying to savour every second of the last of his four Olympics.
"These are the last competitive moments that I will have in my career," he said.
"It's big. There are going to be a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts this week. I won't be holding back when I am in the pool," he added.
No one ever got rich betting against Phelps, now 27, but some wonder whether he still has the motivation needed. His teammate Tyler Clary has said as much. "Basically, he was a swimmer that didn't want to be there," he said after seeing Phelps in training. "They can talk about all of these goals and plans and preparation they have. I saw it. I know. It's different. And I saw somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time."
Clary has since apologised to Phelps and the rest of the USA swimming team, but there may be something in what he said. Phelps has admitted that his priorities are a little different this time around. In Beijing he had been trying to conquer "everything and anything", but this, he says, "is the closure. And it is really how many toppings do I want on my sundae? That's what I am doing".
He has, it would be fair to say, a warped sense of how to treat himself.
Phelps is competing in seven events here, and his programme begins on Saturday night (Sunday morning in India) with one of the most keenly anticipated races in the history of Olympic swimming — the showdown with teammate Ryan Lochte in the 400m individual medley. They race twice this week, in the 400m and 200m medleys, competing for the title of the world's best all-round swimmer.
"I don't know how you decide who is the world's greatest swimmer," Lochte says, modestly. Other people do. Great Britain's James Goddard, who will most likely be one of the men trailing in the wake of Phelps and Lochte and racing for the bronze, said: "Those two are the greatest swimmers of all time, and I'm honoured that I am swimming in this event."
In Goddard's opinion Phelps is "the best athlete who has ever walked the planet, in any sport".
Phelps needs three medals to become the most-decorated Olympian in history, overtaking the Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina. He should do it easily. Even the greatest of all time have their limits, though. After Beijing Phelps swore he would never compete in the 400m medley again, because it is so gruelling. And yet here he is.