Sportsmen of the Year

Michael Phelps, Olympics 2008, Olympics swimmers phelps
Seth Wenig/AP

Michael Phelps, 2008 Sportsman of the Year

December 02, 2008
by Liz Colville
Today, Sports Illustrated named its 2008 Sportsman of the Year. Practically everyone already knew who it would be: swimmer Michael Phelps, the Beijing Olympics superstar who at the young age of 23 is already one of the greatest athletes of all time. 

Birth of a Swimming Phenom

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Michael Phelps was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1985. His findingDulcinea birthday profile notes that he started swimming at age seven at the North Baltimore Athletic Club. When he was young, his father, Fred, and his mother, Debbie, divorced. Michael and his sisters, who also swam, lived with their mother. Phelps has been coached by Bob Bowman since the age of 12. He made his first appearance at the U.S. Olympic Trials at the age of 15, finishing second in the 200-meter butterfly. He only finished fifth in that event at the Sydney Olympics, but five months after the Games, he broke the world record in the event. It was the first of many.
Built with a larger-than-average “wingspan,” a height of 6 foot four inches, and size 14 feet, Phelps was made for swimming. At the Athens Games, he won a total of six gold and two bronze medals. Phelps’s strongest stroke is freestyle, but the 200-meter freestyle gold medal and record eluded him then: Ian Thorpe, record-holder in the event since 2001, cruised to first place in that race. Phelps bounced back from that loss when he dominated the 2007 World Championships, breaking Thorpe’s record and setting five world records, four individual and one relay event: the 200-meter free, 200-meter 'fly, 200-meter IM, 400-meter IM and 4x200-meter free.

Beijing and Beyond

In 2008, the pressure was on to break Mark Spitz's record of 7 gold medals. Several Baltimore Sun video interviews leading up to the Olympic Trials peer into the swimming star’s thought process, his routine and his goals for the Games. In these videos, Phelps is at ease and focused, recounting two standout practice days early in June; what makes him laugh and what makes him mad: fatigue, muscle soreness and taunts from Ian Thorpe. “If I’m in a bad mood,” he says, “you can’t make me laugh.” But he adds that Thorpe’s 2004 pronouncement that trying to vie for Mark Spitz’s record was “ridiculous” only fueled his competitive spirit.
Phelps delivered. During the Beijing Olympics, he entered eight events and won eight gold medals. Following the Games, Phelps has been coasting the wave of Phelpsmania, touring the world, appearing on television and considering endorsement deals. A book, a video game and a documentary are already in the works.
Read more about Michael Phelps's incredible journey and his plans for the future in the official Sportsman of the Year article on the Sports Illustrated Web site.
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