Mon, September 23, 2013

Phelps fired up for another medal haul

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


Michael Phelps will be in the spotlight for what he has promised to be his Olympic swan song. (Davis Turner/Reuters/Files)

Since he was a teenager, one of the biggest challenges for Michael Phelps has been what to do for an encore.

When you make your Olympics debut at age 15 in Sydney, Australia, the future would appear to have no limits. When you mature as an athlete during the next four years and leave Athens with six gold medals and two bronze, you are a superstar.

But what do you do after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when you live up to your billing and hype by winning gold in every event you enter -- all eight of them -- to surpass the record held by former U.S. Olympian Mark Spitz, a feat once thought to be untouchable?

It hasn't been easy for Phelps, now 27, as he again heads to an Olympics chasing even more history. Since doing everything but walking on water in China four years ago, the wake has been anything but smooth for the Baltimore native, leading him to wonder if he had one more Games in him.

There have been legal issues, relentless accusations of doping and, perhaps most daunting, finding the will to fire up his motivation.

"It was hard because I didn't know if the passion or the fire was still inside of me," Phelps told 60 Minutes recently. "It took a while to actually realize it myself. (My coach) couldn't tell me, my mom couldn't tell me.

"I had to find the passion back inside of me."

While clearly not a bust the past few years, that fire seemed to return this spring when his performances were applauded by observers and competitors as typical of the old Phelps. The return of his distinct style and drive would make more medals a good bet for London.

Still, expectations have to be realistic. The eight golds in eight events -- the only big story at the Beijing Games if you watched it through the lens of NBC's coverage -- surely won't happen again. But the Olympic record of 18 total medals held by Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina? Its days would appear to be numbered.

Even without a Beijing redux, the lanky Phelps again will be in the spotlight for what he has promised to be his Olympic swan song. A lot has happened since the world last took notice of Phelps in the pool, however.

In 2009, he was embroiled in controversy when a British tabloid published a picture of him smoking from a bong. The swimmer wasn't prosecuted but he was suspended from competitive swimming for three months and one of his big sponsors, Kellogg, did not renew his endorsement deal.

While he didn't fade completely, the next couple of years were quiet by Phelps' standards leading to speculation he no longer had the will to prepare for another peak Olympic effort. That perception, Phelps said, couldn't be further from the truth.

"It frustrates me and it motivates me," Phelps told NBC Sports. "I'm a lot more relaxed and a lot more laid back than I was for any of the other (Games)," Phelps told NBC Sports recently. "It has been a cool ride, a fun journey and I'm excited for London."

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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