washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > Olympics > 2004 > Sport-by-Sport > Swimming

Just Like Phelps, Time Flies

Six-Time Gold Medalist Wonders What's Ahead

By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 30, 2004; Page D09

ATHENS, Aug. 29 -- Michael Phelps sat on a stage Sunday with his red, white and blue warmup suit, flip-flops and banged up pool feet and wondered where the last four years went.

The 19-year-old Baltimore County swimmer who made history here this month said it seemed like just a moment since he had been a wide-eyed, unknown 15-year-old at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

"The last four years have gone by so fast . . . the next four years will go by even faster," Michael Phelps said. (Jerry Lampen -- Reuters)

_____ Day 17 _____
A marathon assailant fails to spoil the last competition of the Games.
The Greeks led a celebration of an Olympics that at one point was almost taken away from them.
A brawl mars the finale of freestyle wrestling.
Boxer Andre Ward saves the U.S. team with a gold medal.
The South Korean gymnast who lost to Paul Hamm due to a scoring error goes to court.
Russian Alina Kabaeva wins the rhythmic all-around.
The Russia men's volleyball team beats the sluggish U.S. to win bronze, while Brazil wins gold.
The U.S. men's water polo team upsets Italy.

_____ More From The Post _____
Sally Jenkins: Let's give these Games a gold medal.
Mike Wise: Vanderlei de Lima finishes the marathon with heart.
Tom Shales: The Summer Games from Athens on NBC were not, for the most part, riveting, edge-of the-couch television.
Michael Phelps has experienced such a change, over so short a time.

_____ On Our Site _____
Athens Snippets: Fearing the worst, we get Greece's best.
Michael Phelps heads a list of multi-medalists.
Swimming is one of many sports in which records were set.
Doping cases at the Games.
Graphic: American Meb Keflezighi wins a surprising silver.

___ Sunday's Medals Results ___
Men's Marathon
48 Kg
54 Kg
60 Kg
69 Kg
81 Kg
Gymnastics (Rhythmic)
Men's Over 80kg
Women's Over 67kg
Team Handball
Water Polo
Wrestling (Freestyle)
Men's 60Kg
Men's 74Kg
Men's 96Kg

_____ Multimedia _____
Audio: Gold-medal winning athletes from the United States share their experiences.
Audio: American boxer Andre Ward discusses his journey to gold.
Audio: American Meb Keflezighi talks about his silver medal in the marathon.
Audio: The USOC is proud of the United States' medal haul.
Audio: Sprinter Justin Gatlin and the U.S. track and field team have a bright future.
Audio: IOC president Jacques Rogge formally closes the Athens Games.

_____ Photos _____
Day 17
Gold medal fans
Photo galleries page

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Now, four years later, here he was on the last day of the Athens Olympics, hauling home six gold medals and two bronze and a reputation as one of the greatest Olympic swimmers ever.

Such a change, over so short a time. It was mind-bending.

"It's crazy that it's all over," he said. "It seems like it just started. . . . It seems like yesterday that I was in Sydney and coming home to go back to high school. The last four years have gone by so fast, and I think the next four years will go by even faster."

Phelps, who was in the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday night and was expected to leave Athens Monday, reflected on the last two weeks and on what the next four years might hold for him.

Appearing relaxed more than a week after he finished swimming, he said his short-term plans after his homecoming were to buy an English bulldog he wants to name "Chief," and a black Cadillac Coupe DeVille. "The dog is definite," he said. "I've been thinking about names and 'Chief' is the one that popped into my mind and it seemed like a pretty sweet name."

The car is slightly less certain. "I want a Cadillac DeVille," he said. "We'll see what happens."

Phelps can probably afford it. His pre-Olympic, multimillion-dollar worth has been substantially enhanced by his performance here.

Phelps said he has been trying to rest, and enjoy himself, and "recover from the past four years."

"When you come to the Olympic Games, it's so emotionally draining," he said. "You go from one event to another, and with the program that I had here, I was dead."

He competed 17 times in seven days.

Speaking as he sat in a huge interview room in the Main Press Center, Phelps said he has not been back in the pool since swimming competition ended August 21, but plans to resume training soon at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. "The minute . . . I get back to the States I'm going to start training in the water again, and get back to the big picture," he said.

He must do so now without longtime coach Bob Bowman, who is due to start work this week as the new head men's swimming coach at the University of Michigan.

Phelps said he plans to train on auto-pilot, with a series of drills that Bowman will provide him: "He's going to give me some practices, and I'm going to try to just go through the motions, and hopefully stay in some kind of shape."

But Phelps may find things changed when he gets home. His mother, Debbie, said Sunday that the phone calls have already started. There were 50 messages on her answering machine when she returned home from Athens last week.

And there have been more calls since, mostly from star-struck girls. "You don't know me," she said one young girl said in a recent call. But she just wanted to say that Michael "was so hot."

"It's wild," Debbie Phelps said from her home. "It really is."

Phelps said he has had some hints here. He said he attended one of the women's soccer games this week, and was immediately besieged by a score of well-wishers.

"I wonder what it's going to be like back in the States," he said he remarked to a sportswriter.

"You have no idea," he said the writer replied. "Get ready."

"So I'm ready to head home," he said. "And I'm ready to get my life back."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company