-- 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.
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."