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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Olympic Swimmer Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps
Al Bello, Getty Images

At 27 years old, swimmer Michael Phelps is at the top of his game. He’s won countless honors, awards and medals during his career, leading some to describe him as the greatest athlete in history to ever grace the sport.

Later this month, Phelps will attempt to add to his impressive list of accolades by competing in the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Will he continue to dominate the field? If his amazing performance during the Olympic trials is any indication, it seems almost a certainty.

But despite the amount of coverage that’s been devoted to Phelps over the years, there may be some things you don’t know about him. Check out our roundup below.


Phelps was born in Baltimore, MD, on June 30, 1985 and is the youngest of three children. His mother is a high school principal and his father was a state trooper who almost played professional football for the Washington Redskins. Phelps is six feet, four inches tall and weighs 185 lbs.

His Facebook page boasts a staggering five million-plus likes and his Twitter account has more than 230,000 followers.


Michael Phelps
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

According to his mother, Phelps was a restless, high-energy child who had difficulty focusing in class. While in the sixth grade, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and started taking Ritalin.

The drug reportedly helped Phelps focus on his studies, but he felt ashamed having to visit the school nurse each day for a pill during lunchtime. So, he stopped taking medication at 12 years old and threw himself entirely into swimming, treating his condition with intense physical training and behavior modification instead.


Michael Phelps
Phil Walter, Getty Images

Just a few weeks before his 15th birthday in 2000, Phelps became the youngest swimmer to make the US Olympic team since 1932. He’s gone on to win 16 Olympic medals — 14 gold and two bronze — between Athens in 2004 and Beijing in 2008, more than any other athlete at both games. In addition, he holds the record for the most gold medals won at a single Olympics and the most gold medals ever held by a single athlete.

Phelps’ Olympic medal total is second only to Russian gymnast Larisa Latynina, who won 18 medals over three Olympics. He does, however, stand an excellent chance of breaking that record in London.


Michael Phelps
Al Bello, Getty Images

In 2009, the British tabloid News of the World ran of photo of Phelps smoking from a bong at a University of South Carolina party. Phelps quickly apologized for the photo, saying his behavior was “regrettable” and showed “bad judgement.”

“I’m 23 years old, and despite the successes I have had in the pool, I acted in a youthful and inappropriate way, not in a manner that people have come to expect from me,” he said. “For this, I am sorry. I promise my fans and the public – it will not happen again.”

Phelps, who has never failed a drug test, was nevertheless suspended from competition for three months by USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, and cereal maker Kellogg dropped him from a Frosted Flakes endorsement deal, announcing that Phelps’ behavior was not “consistent with the image of Kellogg.”


Michael Phelps
Al Bello, Getty Images

Although he’s toyed with the idea of retiring ever since Beijing, the games in London could very well be his last. Phelps has been adamant about not swimming in the Summer Olympics in Rio in 2016.

Moreover, he actually dropped out of the 200-meter freestyle in London — an event he won at the last Olympics — to allow him to focus on other events, claiming that his body can no longer handle the grueling pace he kept during Beijing.

“I don’t want to jeopardize other events by swimming too much,” he said. “Scheduling-wise, it was a perfect opportunity to get a day off to relax, to recover more … and to prepare myself for other races.”


Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte
Al Bello, Getty Images

Phelps may be the greatest swimmer ever, but he’s got some stiff competition in fellow teammate Ryan Lochte. Lochte has been nipping at Phelps’ heels throughout the trials and their friendly rivalry will no doubt create some dramatic tension in London.

By the end of the trials, Phelps qualified for the same eight events he won at the Olympics in 2008. But in some cases, he only narrowly edged out Lochte. During the 200-meter freestyle, for example, Phelps beat his teammate by a mere five one-hundredths of a second.


Phelps’ net worth is estimated at $40 million and could eventually reach $100 million over the course of his career from deals with sponsors like Speedo, Hilton, Subway, Visa, Proctor & Gamble, HP, Topps and Omega. Still, despite all the money he’s raking in, Phelps said his primary motivation is to increase the visibility of his sport.

“I want to do anything I can to help the sport grow,” he said. “One of my big goals is to change the fact that swimmers don’t get much attention. I think some of the things I am doing in the pool are doing that. I can’t stress enough how important that is to me.”

To put it mildly, he’s already done that and much more. The Chicago Tribune noted that this year’s Olympic swimming trials had a “rock concert vibe with sizzle” and attendance — with tickets ranging from $325-$1000 — was off the charts.

As a way to further advance the sport, Phelps also created the Michael Phelps Foundation, which is dedicated to “growing the sport of swimming and promoting healthy and active lives.”

“I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in a water safety class when I was five years old,” said Phelps. “Ever since, the pool has provided me with a place to have fun, stay healthy, set goals, work hard and gain confidence. Now it’s my turn to give back.”


Michael Phelps
Jamie Squire, Getty Images

Phelps was literally made to be a swimmer, and has a reach that extends three inches further than his height, relatively short legs which lower drag, and flipper-like size 14 feet that can rotate 15 degrees more than average. However, his remarkable success isn’t strictly due to a natural born physique. He also has an astonishingly brutal training regimen.

During peak training, Phelps swims a minimum of 80,000 meters a week, or almost 50 miles. He also trains six days a week for 5-6 hours a day, sleeps in a chamber meant to simulate high altitudes, weight trains three days a week and consumes a staggering 12,000 calories each day.


A common practice among swimmers, Phelps wears a second swim cap over the first to smooth out wrinkles and make himself more aerodynamic in the water. It’s also a way to keep goggles tighter, but can sometimes cause problems as well.

In Beijing during the 200-meter butterfly, his goggles filled with water, but he was unable to remove them because they were so firmly affixed to his head. Still, he didn’t let the fact that he was swimming blind stop him.

“I dove in and they filled up with water, and it got worse and worse during the race,” he said. “From the 150-meter wall to the finish, I couldn’t see the wall. I was just hoping I was winning.”


Given Phelps’ superstar status, it makes sense that companies would want him as a spokesperson to hawk their products. He’s filmed TV spots for Head & Shoulders, Powerbar and Speedo just to name a few. He even starred in a funny ad for Rosetta Stone, which he used to learn Mandarin before the Beijing games, and a special-effects heavy Subway commercial where he goes “landswimming.”

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