Michael Phelps

Heavy-Medal Swimmer

In case you fell asleep during the gazillion hours that the Olympics were televised this August, here's a news flash: Michael Phelps was the Man. Swimming 17 races in seven days, the 19-year-old Maryland native nabbed six gold medals and two bronzes, a record haul for any sport in a single, non-boycotted Olympics. Although Phelps's physique guarantees domination in the pool—observe his lean six-foot-four, 195-pound frame, flipperlike size-14 feet, six-foot-seven-inch wingspan, and extra-long torso—it was his bring-it-on mentality that cemented him as the one to beat in Athens. "He went after competition, not glory," says Olympic commentator Rowdy Gaines, who won three gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. "He wasn't afraid to take on the world's best." Case in point: Instead of entering the 200-meter backstroke—an event where at least a silver medal was a lock—Phelps swam against his Australian rival Ian Thorpe in the 200-meter freestyle, losing to Thorpe but snagging the bronze and breaking his own American record. But the much-heralded sportsmanship moment came when Phelps gave up his butterfly leg in the 4-by-100-meter medley relay to then-medalless teammate Ian Crocker. The U.S. team proceeded to win gold. Phelps's pro status makes him ineligible for collegiate competition, but he's still logging 50 pool miles a week as he prepares to start his freshman year at the University of Michigan, under the watchful eye of his longtime coach, Bob Bowman. It's never too soon to start training for Beijing.

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