Spitz? Eight golds? 'Relaxed' Phelps not going there
CHICAGO -- It must be frustrating to win six gold medals (eight total) at one Olympics and have people focus on how you didn't win at least one more. So it's no wonder that Michael Phelps isn't publicly broadcasting his goal for Beijing this summer.
Asked throughout an assembly line of interviews how many medals he plans to win -- and whether he can match or best Mark Spitz's record of seven golds in 1972 -- Phelps did his best to dodge the issue at the U.S. Olympic media summit. Only two people know his Olympic goal, he said -- he and his coach, Bob Bowman. And they're not saying (though you can go ahead and guess if you want).
"You never know what can happen," Phelps said. "Like I said before and I'll say it again, the only person I can worry about is myself. If I can prepare myself the best way that I can, that's really all I can ask. Now, if I go in there and I have a good enough time to compete, that's all I can ask. I'm trying to prepare myself the best way I can."
Spitz became a national hero and an Olympic icon when he won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and he still may be the best known swimmer among American fans. Phelps tried to top Spitz in 2004 -- his endorsement contract with Speedo includes a $1 million incentive clause for matching the record -- but fell just short. The eight medals and six golds were extraordinary, but much of the story was his "failure" to beat a swimmer who last competed in the Olympics 13 years before Phelps was born.
Still, Phelps established himself as the world's best swimmer, and he's gotten better in the four years since Athens. Bowman said the swimmer has significantly improved his breaststroke. Phelps also won seven gold medals at the past world championships in Australia -- matching Spitz as the only swimmers to win seven golds at a worlds or Olympics competition -- and he could have won eight had the U.S. relay team not been disqualified from a race when Ian Crocker dove off the starting block during a heat.
Phelps has lowered his times in part due to a new Speedo swimsuit that reduces drag in the water. Asked about complaints that the suit delivers an unfair disadvantage to swimmers who wear it, Phelps replied, "The suit has clearly helped a lot of swimmers to drop some time, but it's not only the suit," Phelps said. "A lot of hard work has to go into it, as well.
"Every single person has the opportunity to wear that suit. Speedo has made it available to everyone."
Phelps said his fame since Athens hasn't been that big a deal. He said he occasionally gets recognized and asked to sign an autograph in airports, but for the most part, his life is pretty tame: swimming, sleeping, playing video games, watching TV and eating.
"My diet is pretty much whatever I want to eat, however much I want to eat, whenever I want to eat it."
(It helps to keep the weight off when you swim 50 miles a week.)
"I'm more relaxed going into these Olympics," Phelps said. "The last time back in Athens, I was like a deer in the headlights. I didn't really know what to expect."
Australian champ Ian Thorpe said earlier this year that he doesn't think Phelps can break Spitz's record in Beijing. Phelps not only heard about the remark, he also posted it on his locker for motivation.
Not that he's thinking about the record, though.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.