The greatest Olympian and his coach

When a teenage Michael Phelps started splashing the girls at the end of a particularly tough training session, his coach Bob Bowman tried to discipline him.

"I said, 'you should be very tired, that's the hardest practice you've ever done,'" the coach recalled.

"I'll never forget. He looked me straight in the eye and said 'I don't get tired.' So I made that my life goal, to see if I could accomplish that."

Twenty-two Olympic medals later - including 18 golds - the greatest Olympian finally retired from competitive swimming at last week's London Olympics. Much more than raw energy drove the boy from Baltimore through race after lung-bursting race.

To understand Michael Phelps, you also have to talk to the man with a psychology degree who trained him, who knew exactly when and how to rile him, who drove Phelps almost to the point of rebellion.

Bowman, 47, is quietly spoken, white haired and bespectacled. He has none of the air of the poolside bully. But that's one of the roles he played.

"I've always tried to find ways to give him adversity in either meets or practice and have him overcome it," Bowman has said.

"The higher the level of pressure, the better Michael performs. As expectations rise, he becomes more relaxed... That's what makes him the greatest."


Phelps didn't take easily to swimming as a five-year-old.

"I was afraid of the water at first, I didn't want to put my face under," he said. "I just didn't like the feeling."

Born on June 30 1985, Michael was the youngest of three children. His father, Fred, had been a college football player who once tried out for the Washington Redskins. His mother, Debbie, was a schoolteacher who became a Middle School principal.

In elementary school, Phelps was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder - he used to take medication on school days. He was bullied. His parents divorced when he was nine and his mother, who raised him, encouraged him to follow his accomplished older sisters into swimming.

... contd.

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