DALLAS — When he was just 16, Michael Phelps was so audacious he wanted to change the sport of swimming.
With the London Olympics a mere 75 days away, Phelps, now 26, took to the stage Sunday at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s media summit, and the main reason most of the reporters and camera crews who were here was — Michael Phelps.
This comes as no disrespect to any of the other athletes who came before him Sunday or who will follow him over the next two days. Or, for that matter, any of the senior officials of the USOC.
Phelps, just as he was in Beijing four years ago, will be the star of the show in London in 2012.
He and Usain Bolt are the mega-stars of the Olympic firmament.
Indeed, Phelps has succeeded in making swimming — a sport in which the athletes spend their time submerged in water, their faces hidden from television cameras — marketable.
Last summer, at the world swimming championships in Shanghai, there was Phelps’ picture — promoting one of his sponsors — across bus stops all over town.
The U.S. Trials, just as they were four years ago, will be in Omaha. Omaha! In a pool plunked down in the middle of a basketball arena. Just like four years ago, the place will be packed.
Eight years ago, the Trials were held in a pool that was specially built and plunked down in the parking lot in Long Beach. Those Trials were jammed, too.
This is pretty much all Phelps.
Assuming all goes as expected in Omaha, Phelps and Ryan Lochte, who bring out the best in each other, will be featured on NBC for pretty much every night of the first week of the Summer Games.
On Monday, Phelps and his longtime coach, Bob Bowman, will head to Colorado Springs and sequester themselves away until Omaha. This is a new tactic. They’re going to stay up there, at altitude and away from all other distractions. Phelps needs to fine-tune.
Assuming all goes well there, Phelps will swim in Omaha and London the way he always has. Yes, there are others in the race and they spur him on. But he swims against himself and for times. He has goals that only he and Bowman know. Assuming he hits those goals — well, usually he wins.
The only suspense in his program is how many races he’s going to swim in London. Probably not eight. But maybe. Who knows?
Who really cares? This time, that’s not the goal.
All along, really, Phelps’ goal was to change the sport. The eight gold medals in Beijing — in a way, they were a means to an end, a reminder that there is no goal that, truly, is too audacious. As Bowman said Sunday, in an echo of what Phelps has always said, “You can do anything you set your mind to if you have a dream and you’re willing to work hard enough.”