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The elusive Michael Phelps

May 13, 2012, 12:13 a.m. (ET)
By Peggy Shinn

DALLAS, Texas — With 74 days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and 43 days until swimming U.S. Olympic Trials, Michael Phelps isn’t talking.

He’s not saying which events he plans to swim at either Trials or the Olympics.

And he’s not saying what his goals are. Except that it won’t be to win eight medals again.

“If you guys want to compare me to that, that’s your decision,” Phelps told a packed room of reporters at the 2012 Team USA Media Summit in Dallas on Mother’s Day.

Though Phelps will — in all likelihood — add to his collection of 14 Olympic gold and 2 bronze medals in London, he seems driven by pursuing unspoken goals rather than winning more medals.

“I’m going out there to try to accomplish the things that I have in my mind and in my heart,” he said. “If I can do that and if I can have fun, then that’s really all that matters to me.”

Once he hangs up his suit — which he said on CBS’s 60 Minutes will happen after he pulls himself from the pool after his last event in London (whatever that will be) — Phelps wants to say he did everything in his career that he set out to accomplish.

“Whether that’s 15 gold medals or 16 total medals, if I can say I’ve done everything I wanted, I think that’s all that really matters,” he added.

So what are his goals?

We can only speculate.

Is it to win 19 total Olympic medals? If he adds three more medals in London, he will surpass Larisa Latynina, the former Soviet gymnast who to date has won the most Olympic medals ever — 18 (9 gold, 5 silver, and 4 bronze) in the 1956, 1960, and 1964 Olympics.

Phelps recently met Latynina at a photo shoot in New York City and said it was “an honor to meet such a legend, such an icon in the Olympic movement.” But until this year, when someone told him what the medal record was, Phelps did not know it was 18.

Or is it to set world records in the 200-meter freestyle and 200 individual medley? Of the five individual races in which Phelps competed at the 2008 Olympics, these two 200-meter races are the only two events in which he does not currently hold  world records (he holds world records in the 100 and 200 fly and 400 IM).

Or is it to add silver to his collection of 14 gold and 2 bronze medals?

Doubtful, given his desire to win. When asked what it was like to watch Ryan Lochte win races over the past couple of years while he struggled with desire and thus fitness, Phelps said, “It wasn’t fun.”

“He was rolling over me,” said Phelps, of competing against Lochte. “It wasn’t fun to be on that end. It was something that was very motivating for me.”

Whatever his goals are, he is aiming to be his best again this summer. Though he struggled in 2009 and 2010, he found the passion again for swimming — though he won’t say exactly how he re-found it (“A number of different things kind of kicked in,” he said, “and I wanted to do it again”) — and he is excited about the coming summer.

“He definitely has been having some great training sessions, and I’ve seen some practices have been as great as before 2008,” said North Baltimore Aquatic Club teammate Allison Schmitt.

Phelps credits Schmidt with making practice fun.

“I think I’ve seen her one time unhappy in 6 years,” said Phelps. “She always has jokes and something to make you smile.”

Jokes aside, when pressed about what events he plans to swim, Phelps asked the crowd, “Why is it such a big deal what I’m swimming?”

His coach, Bob Bowman, explained that if he and Phelps announce the events, then they would have to hold another press conference to explain why they’ve changed it.

“The other part of it is I don’t know that we need to give the competition any more ammunition then they already have,” quipped Bowman.

So no matter how many times they are asked, Phelps and Bowman aren’t talking.

“We’ve never shared our goals,” said Phelps.

“The biggest thing is Bob and I have plans,” he added. “He’s the only person besides me who can really help achieve my goals. My mom doesn’t know my goals. She’s not jumping in the pool and training for me, although probably would like to sometimes.”

But he did say he wrote down his goal — or rather, typed it (because his handwriting is terrible).

“Afterwards, you’ll be able to see if I’ve accomplished all of my goals are not,” he said.

Peggy Shinn is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.

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