"Mr. Phelps Is Back!"

Thomas ConroyCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - JULY 9: Michael Phelps swims en route to winning the men's 100  meter butterfly final and setting a new world record of 50.22 on Day Three of the 2009 ConocoPhillips Nationals Championships & World Championship Trials on July 9, 2009 at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Arguably the greatest swimmer in international competition, Michael Phelps had to prove once again to the public that he is the most celebrated Olympian of our time. He punched his own ticket to the World Championships later this year in Rome, by winning the 200m, 100m butterfly, and the 200 freestyle at the USA Swimming National Championships in Indianapolis last weekend.

In a swimming competition that was billed as his “comeback” to the sport, Phelps broke the world record in the 100 butterfly with a time of 50.22. It should also be reminded that he currently holds the world record in the 200 freestyle and 200 butterfly events as well.

He has been a prisoner of expectation, as each time Phelps steps onto a starting block, flashbulbs will go off simultaneously. An once-in-a-lifetime performance could occur, and this projects him into a rock star status with his fans. Phelps strives to become the standard in swimming for generations to come.

But it almost didn’t happen that way, as Phelps refused to put his head into the water during his first swimming lesson. Sensing fear, his instructor encouraged him to float on his back. And within no time, he mastered his first stroke, the backstroke. By the age of 13, the swimming community began whispering about how Phelps had an outside shot of making the Sydney Olympic roster, and by the age of 15, he became the youngest world record holder in the sport.

With added fame comes an assortment of pitfalls, an unfortunate photograph showing Phelps smoking out of a bong was leaked to the press following the Beijing Olympic Games last year. Embarrassed by his actions, Phelps called his conduct unacceptable. And at times, he has thought of quitting the sport to try to live a normal life. But in the end, swimming is all he knows, and his savvy business deals has netted him a cool $5 million per year in income. This makes Phelps the highest-paid swimmer in U.S. history.

His physique notwithstanding, Phelps’ endurance could be his greatest asset in the upcoming World Championships. He also has the ability to relax, focus, and block the distractions surrounding him. This makes him a unique athlete, as Phelps never appears to be nervous before a big race, and this could be a plus in Rome.