Golden quirks

Think you know everything about Phelps? Here are eight of his lesser-known traits

Hidden nuggets

Beijing 2008

August 15, 2008|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun reporter

When the whole world is writing about someone like Michael Phelps, you tend to get a lot of overlap. If you've been following the Olympics, by now, you probably know the basics. Phelps grew up just outside of Baltimore and battled ADHD as a kid. He was raised, mostly, by his mother, Debbie, a middle school principal. You might feel like you've heard those details hundreds of times by now. But that isn't everything you need to know about Phelps. In fact, here are some things you never knew:

1. He wears two caps: This is actually something a lot of swimmers do, and it's probably more psychological than anything. The goal is to make your head as smooth as possible and thus able to move through the water faster. When races are decided by hundredths of a second, swimmers will try to get any advantage. Mostly, it simply feels more secure.

2. Erik Vendt, not Ryan Lochte, is his closest friend: Phelps and Lochte are pals - they have a shared interest in music, women, life - but they never talk about swimming. They're too competitive. Vendt, who trained with Phelps the past two years in Michigan, was one of his closest confidants during this difficult year that included uneven training and a broken wrist. They're also roommates during most swim meets.

3. He wears different suits for different events: When you watch Phelps swim the freestyle events, he usually wears the kind of Speedo LZR Racer that has straps over his shoulders and goes all the way down to his ankles. But when he swims an event in which he needs to perform the butterfly stroke, he wears only the LZR Racer pants. There is so much shoulder motion required for the fly, he feels more comfortable without something over his shoulders. You'll also see him in the relays immediately unzip his suit and pull it off his shoulders and down around his waist when he is finished swimming. It's not a vanity thing; it's because the suits are ridiculously tight and most swimmers want to unzip them as soon as possible.

4. He almost never reads what is written about him: Phelps stopped reading stuff written about him long ago. His coach, Bob Bowman, on the other hand, reads everything. "I'm a big Google guy," Bowman says.

5. It's not always hip-hop on his iPod: Phelps has been listening to Lil' Wayne this week, a rapper from New Orleans. He's also a big fan of artists such as Rick Ross, Young Jeezy and, of course, Jay-Z. But occasionally he'll mix things up and listen to some techno.

6. He spends a lot of time playing video games: He plays a lot of Madden, but he also plays Halo frequently, as well. One week, he played so much Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf on his Nintendo Wii that he came to practice with a sore shoulder, and Bowman said if that ever happened again he was taking the video game console away.

7. He knows how many strokes from one end of the pool to the other: When Phelps' goggles filled with water in the 200-meter butterfly Wednesday morning, he didn't freak out even though he couldn't see more than a few meters in front of him. He simply knew how many strokes it would take to get to the wall and was counting in his head.

8. He falls asleep with the television on: When you spend half your life in hotel rooms all around the world, the familiar sounds of ESPN or The Discovery Channel can provide some small measure of comfort.

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