Phelps typical 23-year-old _ 'til he hits water

Aug. 12, 2008, 12:15 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) In some ways, Michael Phelps is just your typical 23-year-old.

He hates getting up early. He wolfs down enormous amounts of pizza. He loves texting with friends, listening to hip-hop on his iPod, or just cruising around in a pimped-out ride.

Then he dives in the water.

Nothing typical there.

In winning the 200-meter freestyle, Phelps etched his name alongside the winningest Olympians with the ninth gold of an already brilliant career that shows no signs of slowing down. He'll only be making a brief stopover, saying hi to a group that includes Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis, then moving on.

Phelps has two more finals Wednesday - the 200 butterfly and the 800 free relay - and will be an overwhelming favorite in both races, already holding the world record in each. By lunchtime, he'll likely to be in a league of his own with 11 gold medals.

That would leave him with only one other thing to do before he leaves China: win all eight of his events to take down Spitz's record of seven golds at the 1972 Munich Games.

As of Tuesday, Phelps was 3-for-3 in Beijing - all of them with world record times.

"It might be once in a century you see something like this," teammate Aaron Peirsol said. "He's not just winning, he's absolutely destroying everything. It's awesome to watch."

To hear him talk, you wouldn't know it. He's turned a gathering of the world's best swimmers into his own personal meet, just him against the clock, easily lugging along the weight of history.

When Phelps climbed out of the pool after his latest dominating win matched Spitz, Lewis & Co., he unzipped his skintight suit and ambled over to chat with his coach.

"Well, you're tied," Bob Bowman reminded him.

"That's pretty cool," Phelps replied.

Ho-hum.

Phelps races to win, then moves on. He doesn't pause to appreciate the moment. There'll be plenty of time for that later.

"It's his physical ability, it's his ability to race, it's his ability to keep focused, to get excited when he needs to and to come down when he needs to come down," said Mark Schubert, head coach of the U.S. team.

Phelps didn't even know until earlier this year that he could become the winningest Olympian ever coming off of his six-gold performance in 2004. It took him just four days in Beijing to pull into a tie with Spitz, Lewis, Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina and Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi.

"To be tied for the most Olympic golds of all time, with those names, in Olympic history ...," Phelps said, before pausing and letting out a slight chuckle.

"The Olympics have been around for so many years, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment."

He's sure not going to get all worked up about it, though. He'll leave that to others.

"If you're not involved in the sport, I'm not sure you can fully appreciate it," said Jack Bauerle, who coaches the U.S. women's team. "He is way past anything you have seen. He is incredible."

Away from the pool, Phelps is a creature of habit. He struggles to wake up in the morning, and loves to take naps in the middle of the afternoon. He usually gets two massages a day and takes ice baths to help his body recover from the grueling schedule. He feasts on gargantuan amounts of pasta and pizza between races.

"Lots of carbs," he said.

When it's time to race, there's no one better. Which is why it's hard to imagine anyone beating him in Beijing.

"I don't think Michael will let his guard down until the last relay race," said his mom, Debbie Phelps. "I don't think he has a comfort zone at all until the whole meet is over, the whole Olympic Games. He will not let his guard down because there's always someone out there."

Or not.

Phelps dominated the 400 individual medley and cleared his toughest hurdle when the 400 free relay team, anchored by Jason Lezak, pulled off an astonishing comeback over the last 25 meters to beat the French by a fingertip.

No one was close to him in the 200 free, either. Phelps made a perfect dive off the blocks and already had a clear lead by the time his body - perfectly suited for swimming with its long torso, large wingspan and big, flexible feet - re-emerged from the water.

Shortly after the first flip turn, he already was a full body length ahead. Phelps steadily pulled away and touched the wall in 1 minute, 42.96 seconds, breaking the mark he set at last year's world championships by nearly a full second.

By the time silver medalist Park Tae-hwan lunged for the end of the pool, Phelps was already looking at the scoreboard.

"I can copy him, but I don't think I could be as good as Phelps," said Park, a gold medalist himself in the 400 free. "It is my honor to compete with him."

His performance is even more remarkable when one considers the workload he takes on at a meet such as this: 17 races covering more than two miles, often against swimmers who specialize in one or two events.

"They've been resting all week and just gearing themselves up for one race, where every time Michael gets up on the block, he has to gear himself up for his performance that night or that morning," Debbie Phelps said.

Nothing spurs Phelps on more than defeat. The fear of failure defines all the great ones, from Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods, and there's nothing different about this guy.

In the 200 free, he avenged his only individual loss at the last Olympics. Phelps, only 19 then, finished third on that warm Greek evening behind Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband in what was quickly dubbed the "Race of the Century." Four years later, he has no equal.

"I hate to lose," he said. "When I lose a race like that, it motivates me even more to try to swim faster."

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