Phelps' father watches, cheers from a distance

Beijing 2008

August 15, 2008|By Rick Maese and Kevin Van Valkenburg

The Sun's Olympic correspondents, Rick Maese and Kevin Van Valkenburg, are blogging to each other at . An excerpt:

Where's Phelps' dad?

To Kevin, et al.

Subject: Watching from afar

Fair or not, nosy or simply curious, I think people back in the United States are watching Michael Phelps nightly on NBC and making note of the many shots they see of Debbie Phelps cheering from the stands. The omission is probably striking to some: We see Michael's mom, but what about dad?

Brief background: Fred and Debbie separated for good in 1993, and the divorce was finalized the next year, when Michael was 9. By all accounts, Fred Phelps wasn't an everyday figure in his children's lives for much of Phelps' adolescence. In my column yesterday, I mentioned that Phelps' older sisters, Hilary and Whitney, both played pivotal roles in his development, not just as a swimmer but as a young man.

They did reconcile with their father several years ago but have since drifted apart again. Fred Phelps was in Greece. He is not in Beijing. When I asked his daughters in the weeks leading up to these Olympics whether their father would be attending, they each said, "I don't know."

Our Sun colleague, Childs Walker, spoke with Fred Phelps this week to request an interview. Fred thought about it, and I think he probably handled the request as well as he could. He declined, saying he didn't want to take away from his son's accomplishments by delving into the family story.

"This is just about Michael," he said. "This is his glory, his time to shine, and I want him to get everything he wants."

Rest assured, while Phelps is in the Beijing pool, his father is paying close attention, cheering from back in Maryland.

"I'm just on pins and needles every time he hits the water," Fred Phelps said.

Rick Maese

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