In the hunt for swimming gold

Phelps Fever Meter

Athens Olympics

August 14, 2004|By Stephanie Shapiro and Vera Eidelman

He's really fast, yet impossible to miss.

Today in Athens, hometown hero Michael Phelps is expected to swim the final of the 400 individual medley, his first of eight possible races for gold at the Olympics. But as anyone with his head above water knows, Phelps has already medaled in hype.

He's nabbed cover-boy props from Sports Illustrated, Time and Parade. Tom Brokaw took the time to chat with him in the midst of hurricanes and insurgencies. In cyberspace, Phelps is computer wallpaper material.

While Speedo's endorsement has enhanced Phelps' image as an aquatic Adonis, contracts with Omega watches, PowerBar, Visa, Argent Mortgage and AT&T Wireless (a new commercial just began airing) have propelled the 19-year-old swimmer into the marketing fast lane.

In Baltimore, the spotlight on Phelps grows brighter by the day. The "Good Luck Michael Phelps" message outside his alma mater, Towson High, and the flashy Olympic window display at About Faces Day Spa in the Shops at Kenilworth are signs of the excitement to come.

Eight races. Eight chances at gold. Eight days to catch a serious case of Phelps fever.

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