Author of Phelps book recalls definitive moment

From Beijing To Baltimore

August 16, 2008|By Rick Maese

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

To Kevin, et al.

Subject: From the man who knows best ...

One of the first folks I met from The Sun was Paul McMullen. It was the Athens Olympics, and McMullen was covering the most important story of those Games.

McMullen covered Phelps since the swimmer was 15 years old, from the 2000 Olympic trials in Indianapolis to the 2004 Games in Greece. After the 2004 Olympics, McMullen took that expertise and penned what still stands as the definitive biography on Phelps, Amazing Pace. McMullen answers a few questions:

1. Has anything surprised you this week? When you left Athens and thought ahead to Beijing, what did you anticipate might take place at the 2008 Games?

After last year's world championships in Melbourne, it was apparent that Athens had just been a test run for Beijing. The only thing that has come as a shock is Jason Lezak's anchor leg in the 400 freestyle relay. Gary Hall Jr. derided Jason for not being a clutch performer four years ago, a criticism that wasn't unjustified. Lezak has forever transformed his image.

In Amazing Pace, I mention Michael modeling himself after the other Michael, Jordan. A la MJ, [Phelps] elevated the performance of his teammates. Lezak is to [Phelps] as Scottie Pippen was to Jordan.

2. Over the course of the past several days, what single thing has impressed you most?

Swimming lacks a meaningful stopwatch milestone, like Roger Bannister's sub-4-minute mile in 1954. On the 60th anniversary of Bannister, in 2004, I speculated about Michael one day breaking 4 minutes in the 400 IM. If this year's first gold was indeed his final 400 IM, we'll never see that, but his times are astounding, considering that no one had broken 4:11 until he went there in 2002.

3. You were around Michael for so long; do you think he's able to reflect and appreciate what's taking place right now?

Gosh no. Why do you think he is capable of doing what he has? Introspection is not part of his gig. The young man lives in the moment .

4. Whether it was from a meaningless meet or at the pool in Athens, is there a single definitive "Michael moment" that's etched in your brain, something that fully represents him to you?

At the 2000 U.S. trials in Indianapolis, a month after turning 15, he came from well off the pace to make history for the first time, earning a Sydney berth and becoming the youngest American male at the Games in any sport since 1952. His start was a joke, his turns were wretched, but even then, the kid could close a race. You knew you were blessed, to witness the start of something big. Did you see that his record 10th gold came in the 200 butterfly, the event that provided his international debut?

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