Turning professional four months past his 16th birthday is the latest first for Michael Phelps, one of the most precocious swimmers the sport has ever seen.
Yesterday, Speedo formally announced an agreement that will make the North Baltimore Aquatic Club star the suit manufacturer's youngest male endorser ever.
Stu Isaac, a vice president with Speedo, said the agreement is through 2005. It culminated negotiations in which Phelps was represented by Frank Morgan, a lawyer with Hodes, Ulman, Pessin & Katz. Both parties declined to discuss financial particulars of the deal.
"The American public doesn't recognize swimmers until they've accomplished something at the Olympics," Isaac said. "In a way, Michael already has. Usually, because of NCAA rules, we don't sign endorsers until they're out of college, but Michael is unique. We want to build some communities with Michael. He gives us a chance to connect with the younger kids."
Last summer, Phelps became the youngest male on the U.S. Olympic swim team since 1932. He finished fifth in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, and six months later - while still 15 - he became the youngest man ever to set a world record. Phelps lowered his standard in the 200-meter butterfly to 1 minute, 54.58 seconds at the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in July.
"Going to the Olympics at 15 helped me look at my goals and realize that they were closer than I thought," Phelps said. "Everyone dreams of the Olympics, and I had no idea I was going to get there that fast. I've been in the Olympics. I've set a world record and won a world championship. To have those things happen has helped me to always focus on what I have to do to meet my next goals."
Already the Olympic favorite in the 200 fly, Phelps also wants to represent the U.S. at the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece, in the 200 and 400 individual medleys, and improve his freestyle to the point where he's fast enough to make the 800 relay.
While Phelps has renounced his collegiate eligibility, his agreement with Speedo will allow him to pursue his college education. In the meantime, Phelps will remain at his mother's home in Rodgers Forge while he prepares for the 2004 Olympics with the NBAC.
"It's an exciting time for Michael, and this is a rewarding opportunity for him," said his mother, Debbie. "Some days when we were driving to the pool at 5:30 a.m., it's just like he was going to work."
Phelps will spend the weekend making his first professional appearance, at a Speedo clinic in Portland, Ore. The Towson High junior wants to emulate Baltimore's other pro sports stars and purchase a sport utility vehicle so he can make his own way to 6 a.m. practices, but first he needs to acquire a driver's license. Phelps finally got his learner's permit last week, after several tries at the Motor Vehicle Administration.
"I actually read the book the third time," Phelps said.