The Reign Of A Champion
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The Reign Of A Champion

One man stands alone atop the world's biggest stage.

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The Reign Of A Champion
New York Times

The year is 2000. A young Michael Phelps walks on deck at the Sydney Aquatics Center. It is his first Olympic appearance. He is 15 years old, the youngest Olympian since the Great Depression. To try to calm his nerves he walks over to the other American competing in the 200 fly finals to wish him good luck. He takes a deep breath, and the whistle blows. Phelps would touch fifth in his only event at those games, but it was only the beginning of his swimming career.

Phelps' swimming career began when he was just 7 years old. It's hard to imagine that back then he was scared to put his face in the water. Eventually he overcame that fear, and in 1996 he joined the North Baltimore Athletic Club. This is where he met longtime coach Bob Bowman, and began his incredible career.

At his first Olympic trials Phelps burst onto the scene in the 200 butterfly, where he touched second after silver medalist Tom Malchow and punched his ticket to Sydney. Though he was an impressive swimmer, some of the more memorable parts of those Olympics for Phelps were his immature decisions. After all, how can a 15-year-old boy be expected to remember there are different electrical systems in different countries? At least he only fried one video game!

After those first Olympics, Phelps worked on maturing himself and his swimming. At the World Championship trials he broke his first world record in the 200 fly. Since he was still only 15 he became the youngest male swimmer to break a world record. In doing so he also secured his hold on the event for the world to see. Now 19, Phelps packed his bags for the Athens Olympics. He was ready to show that he could do more than the 200 butterfly. In Athens he won six gold and two bronze medals.

Between the 2004 and 2008 Olympics Phelps collected more world records and international medals. He was charged with a DUI the winter after Athens. He served his sentence, paid his fine, apologized and continued on with his swimming career. Just before the Bejing Olympics, Phelps announced his goal to win the most gold medals at a single Olympics. The previous record of seven was held by Mark Spitz at the 1972 Munich Games. Some doubted, but when Phelps touched .01 ahead of his competition in the 100 butterfly, he won his eighth gold medal. This games brought his total gold medal count to eighteen.

Once again, Phelps fell on bad times. His recreational drug use surfaced in 2009, and he was banned from USA Swimming for three months. He then lost his first race in four years. It seemed that the great Michael Phelps was falling fast. He had always mentioned he did not want to swim past the age of 30, making the London games in 2012 his last. Fortunately, things would begin to turn around for Phelps, starting at the 2011 World Championships.

In London for the 2012 Olympics Phelps had a new goal: to become the most decorated Olympian of all time. It seemed he was off to a bit of a bad start when he touched fourth in the 400 IM. But, like always, Phelps bounced back and finished the meet with six more medals. His total Olympic medal count was now at 22, three more than that of the old record. As he had always said he would, Phelps retired after these games.

But for someone who had spent so much of his life in the pool, retirement didn't seem to come as easily as he expected. He could still be found in the stands of meets, cheering on his old teammates and competitors. He continued to help the North Baltimore Athletic Club and stayed close with Coach Bowman. Very gradually, he moved back into the water, competing in smaller meets around the country. Could the legend really be back for more?

Phelps officially rejoined the swimming world in early 2014. He became newly focused on the Rio games. And it shows. Phelps recently qualified for his fifth Olympic games in the event that started it all: the 200 butterfly. He is now the first male swimmer to have qualified for five games. In recent interviews about his reasons for competing he says his time off gave him a new perspective, and a new son. He says he is excited to show Boomer his world and how well Daddy can swim.

What's next for Phelps? Only time will tell. One things for sure, he is far from done. Tune into the Olympic games in August to find out!

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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