Phelps is named USOC Sportsman of Year

He gets honor over Hamm, Armstrong, Gatlin, Lopez


February 03, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

College freshman Michael Phelps' first assignment was a gut: give a three- to five-minute speech on how he spent his summer vacation.

He was able to zip through his talk by reciting his Olympic accomplishments, the same ones that yesterday earned him the U.S. Olympic Committee's 2004 Sportsman of the Year award.

The athlete from Rodgers Forge won eight medals - six gold and two bronze - at the Summer Games in Athens. He broke six Olympic records and one world record.

"I am extremely honored to win this award," said Phelps, the fourth swimmer to be named in 31 years. "You look at all the great athletes that could have won, and I'm definitely in a line with some of the greatest athletes in the world."

Also honored by the USOC were Carly Patterson, winner of the women's gymnastics all-around competition in Athens, and the Olympic softball team, which went 9-0 in competition to win its third straight gold medal.

Phelps, 19, finished ahead of Olympic men's all-around gymnastics champion Paul Hamm, cyclist Lance Armstrong, sprinter Justin Gatlin and taekwondo's Steven Lopez in the balloting.

During a teleconference, the Towson High School graduate said he was glad his December conviction on charges of driving while impaired did not cost him the USOC honor. He pleaded guilty and was put on probation.

Phelps is taking two courses at the University of Michigan and training for the 2008 Olympics with his coach, Bob Bowman, the school's new men's swimming coach.

"This is the first time in my life I've been excited to go to school," joked Phelps, who hopes to major in sports management.

Endorsement deals prevent Phelps from competing for the Wolverines, but he trains with the team. His first big competition will be the USA Swimming Spring Nationals, April 1-6.

Phelps said he is "starting to fill out more and starting to get more muscle," which translates into the power needed for sprint events.

The presentation in his public speaking class included a gold medal show-and-tell, although Phelps said there wasn't too much to tell.

"It's in Greek, and I can't read Greek or speak Greek. It had a `200' on it, so it was either the butterfly or IM [individual medley]," he said.

He also didn't go into his plans for the 2008 Summer Games.

"It was only three minutes," he said, laughing. "I didn't want to get points deducted for going over."

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