Phelps to rest, reinvent

After a break, shorter events might dot star's path to gold in 2012, coaches say

Beijing 2008

August 18, 2008|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,Sun reporter

BEIJING - Michael Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, has an expression he likes to use when his swimmers are exhausted, their muscles are burning and their painful workouts are not yet complete:

Keep putting money in the bank.

Sacrifice now, the phrase implies, and you'll be able to make a withdrawal later, when needed during competition. The 23-year-old swimmer from Rodgers Forge has heard it hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times over the years.

"I guess I put a lot of money in the bank over the last four years, and we went through pretty much every penny," Phelps said yesterday, just hours after winning his eighth gold medal, wrapping up the most dominating Olympic performance in history. "After Bob and I both have a little break, it will be time to start redepositing."

What is next for Phelps? The question can be answered two different ways, relating to the short term and the long term.

In the immediate sense, there will be some promotional obligations - Visa, Speedo, Omega among them - and some talk show appearances, and then a long mental and physical holiday.

"I'm going to take a vacation, one where I won't do anything but sit around," Phelps said. "I want to be on my clock, have some fun and be on my time."

There will be a quick trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., to gather up his few remaining belongings and then a hero's return to Baltimore, a place he longs to call home once again. He purchased a house in Fells Point months ago, confirming that he and Bowman - who will be the new CEO of the North Baltimore Aquatic Club - are a package deal.

"I'm really excited to get back to Baltimore," Phelps said. "I can't wait. I've had friends texting me all week, saying, 'We can't wait to have you back.' I'm just really excited to see all of them and be around my family."

Baltimore County officials are planning a parade for Phelps and Olympic teammate Katie Hoff that they expect will dwarf the celebration held in Towson after the Athens Games four years ago.

County spokesman Donald I. Mohler III said a committee of local and state officials is working with Phelps' and Hoff's agents to set a date for the parade. In 2004, the turnout was estimated at 10,000 to 12,000 people, which officials expect will rise significantly because of Phelps' higher profile coming off this year's Games.

"It will truly be a regional event," Mohler said.

In the longer sense for Phelps, there will be other changes, new challenges and an eye toward the London Olympics in 2012. After proving he could become the first man to win five individual events (200-meter freestyle, 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly, 200 individual medley, 400 individual medley), you are likely to see him swim a very different program in London.

"We're not going to see him shooting for eight medals," said Jon Urbanchek, one of Phelps' coaches while he was swimming at Michigan. "He's going to make some changes. I think it will be nothing over 200 meters. I think he's just thinking 100 freestyle, 100 back, 100 fly. And he's going to be the best in the world at all three. He'll probably have to train less and have more fun doing it.

"No one can beat him in the 100 backstroke if he puts his mind to it. He's just that good. You can't explain it any other way. You may never see another one."

At the very least, Phelps and Bowman are intrigued by the idea of ripping up their entire program and starting fresh. Perhaps Phelps' greatest strength as an athlete and a competitor is that he is not afraid to try something different because he wants to protect his legacy. He might spend three years getting beaten in the 100-meter freestyle, but in his eyes, winning the event in London is what matters.

Even an hour after Phelps' Olympics were over, it seemed clear that Bowman had already started to plant the motivational seeds in Phelps' brain for the next challenge. Tell Phelps he can't do something, and he'll spend the rest of his career proving that he can.

"We'll have to see how keen he is on going to sprints," Bowman said. "There is training involved with that. I think he thinks it might be a little easier than it is. I think he can sprint, but I think he's more suited to longer events. It will be a change for him, but I think a good one."

Bowman said early last week that, as hard as Phelps has worked the past eight years, he needs to have some fun as a swimmer as well.

"He can do the races," Bowman said. "The question becomes, 'Why?' At some stage in the game you're going to want to come to a meet like this and swim a couple of events and have more of the experience of the event. One of the things he doesn't get is almost any of that."

We saw a different Michael Phelps in Beijing than we saw in Athens. He was more emotional on this journey; more eager to enjoy the ride. He cried on the medal stand after receiving his first gold of the meet, for the 400 individual medley, and he cried accepting his eighth, as well as a special award from FINA, the sport's governing body, acknowledging his historic achievement.

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