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Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008

BEIJING POSTCARD

Phelps gets ready to take plunge


BEIJING — Finally, his quest can begin.

News photo
Water wizard: American swimmer Michael Phelps has a high profile in Beijing. ED ODEVEN PHOTO

After four years of anticipation, media hype and personal soul searching, swimming sensation Michael Phelps resumes his quest to break Mark Spitz's record of seven gold medals in the Summer Olympic.

(Hey, this would be a good Trivial Pursuit answer for years to come: Phelps won six golds and two bronze medals at the 2004 Athens Summer Games.)

At 7:51 p.m. Tokyo time on Saturday, Phelps was scheduled to splash into the pool in his Beijing debut in the fourth and final preliminary heat of the men's 400-meter individual medley at the National Aquatics Center.

Phelps earned the high-profile Lane 4 assignment for the heat. That's what happens when you are the fastest guy in your heat and, oh yeah, the defending Olympic champion and world record-holder.

He captured the gold in Athens in a time of 4 minutes, 8.26 seconds. That was fast then . . . and in June, in the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, he zoomed to the finish line in 4:05.25.

Another win, another world record.

Some people collect vintage R&B records. Phelps, 23, collects gold medals; it seems like a worthwhile pursuit to me.

During the next week it will be fascinating to monitor Phelps' progress in a city filled with thousands of journalists, and there will be no shortage of flowery prose and overused adjectives.

"I like challenges," Phelps told reporters after a workout at the National Aquatic Center, which is also known as the "Water Cube."

"I know there will be challenges. And I look forward to rising to the occasion."

We learned as much about the then-teenage Phelps when he was in Athens.

Stay tuned.



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