What's in it for Michael Phelps?

By Amy Rosewater | July 26, 2012, 11 a.m. (ET)

Michael Phelps

Not long after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, I met with Bob Bowman, the longtime coach of Michael Phelps at a coffee shop in Baltimore, not far from Phelps’ home pool, Meadowbrook, to reflect on the amazing run the two had in China. After giving Mark Spitz’s Olympic record of winning seven gold medals in one summer Games a shot in Athens and coming home with six gold medals, Phelps did the unthinkable, surpassing Spitz’s record in Beijing and winning eight golds. And he did so in ridiculous ways: with water clogging his goggles, winning by .01 of a second, scoring a relay victory with Jason Lezak swimming his very best.

So what was left? 

As Bowman said then, Phelps didn’t have to do anything else. He didn’t ever have to get in the pool again. But … if Phelps were to be competitive again, Bowman surely could provide some motivation. 

The ever-secretive pair rarely lets on any information when it comes to its game plan, but there clearly was some unfinished business. And although Phelps admitted he went through quite a funk after Beijing and said it was difficult to get motivated to compete again, he eventually turned things around and is in London ready to take on the Olympic competition once again. 

Phelps, who turned 27 last month during the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, is now 12 years removed from his Olympic debut. And he appears ready, tweeting to his 276,165 followers on Twitter on Monday that he had indeed arrived in the Olympic city of London: “And the wait is over … Finally here in #London.”

Actually, the waiting game continues but it’s not much longer. The first medal event for Phelps will be the 400-meter individual medley on Saturday, the day after the Opening Ceremony and Phelps’s first contest against American rival Ryan Lochte.

Here are some milestones he can achieve during these Games:

1.) Before Phelps even arrived in London, he had already made Olympic history. When Phelps qualified for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team during the U.S. Olympic Trials, he became the first American men’s swimmer to qualify for four Olympic Games. He qualified for his first trip to the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000, when he was 15. Phelps placed fifth in the 200 butterfly in his Olympic debut. He went on to win six Olympic gold medals and two bronze medals in the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and then he went 8-for-8 in Beijing in 2008. He has said repeatedly that London will be his last Olympic Games. 

2.) Phelps has amassed 14 Olympic gold medals and two bronze medals, putting him in second place for most Olympic medals won by one athlete. The current leader is Larissa Latynina, a gymnast who represented the Soviet Union and won 18 medals from 1956-1964. Should he win three more medals --- and he has seven events to achieve this --- he will surpass Latynina. 

3.) Along those lines, Phelps already has the record for winning the most Olympic gold medals with 14. Next in line is Latynina with three athletes (including Mark Spitz and Carl Lewis) with 9.   

4.) Should Phelps win four more Olympic gold medals, he will have 18, double the amount of gold than Spitz, who owns the second-most Olympic gold medals among U.S. swimmers. 

5.) If Phelps wins six Olympic medals in London, he will have double the amount of total Olympic medals than Spitz and another American swimming great, Matt Biondi. Both Spitz and Biondi have won 11 Olympic medals apiece. 

6.) Phelps has an opportunity to three gold medals in four individual events. He is the back-to-back Olympic gold medalist in the 100 fly, his signature event: the 200 fly and the 200 and 400 individual medleys.  

7.) Phelps surpassed Spitz by winning eight gold medals in Beijing, but unlike Spitz who set world records in all seven of his events at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games, Phelps did not earn world records in every event in 2008. Phelps won the 100 fly in stunning fashion (by .01 of a second) over Serbia’s Milorad Cavic in Beijing and set an Olympic record of 50.58 seconds, but it was not the world record. Phelps set world records in the 200 fly (1:52.03), the 200 IM (1:54.23), the 400 IM (4:08.26), the 200 free (1:42.96) and as part of the relay teams in the 4 x 100 (3:08.24), the 4 x 200 (6:58.56) and the 4 x 100 medley relay (3:29.34). So if Phelps sets world records in all seven events for which he has qualified in London, he can tie Spitz’s achievement of 1972 of going 7-for-7 in one Olympiad. 

8.) If he wins a medal in each event for which he has qualified in London, he will earn at least seven Olympic medals in each of the last three Games. He earned eight medals in each of his previous two trips to the Games in 2004 and 2008.

Here is Phelps’s lineup of event finals (assuming he qualifies for the finals) in London:

• 400 Individual Medley: July 28

• 4 x 100 Freestyle Relay: July 29

• 4 x 200 Free Relay: July 31

• 200 Fly: July 31

• 200 IM: Aug. 2

• 100 Fly: Aug. 3

• 4 x 100 Medley Relay: Aug. 4

After Beijing, Phelps told reporters, "Records are always made to be broken no matter what they are ... Anybody can do anything that they set their mind to.” And those certainly are inspiring words, but Spitz’s record stood for 36 years. Who knows how long it will take before Phelps’ records fall, if ever. 

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies. 


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