September 5, 2008
(These days being the aftermath of the Beijing Olympics, in which Phelps went from a very good swimmer whom few knew to an even better swimmer whom the country has made the celebrity du jour.)
The Rodgers Forge native flew from New York to Chicago on Tuesday night on a six-passenger jet loaned to him by CitationShares, a company that sells fractional ownership in aircraft.
He spent Tuesday night in an Imperial Suite at the Hilton Chicago.
He joined 176 other 2008 U.S. Olympians on Wednesday in a Millennium Park taping of Monday's Oprah Winfrey Show, during which Oprah vainly tried to pry into his love life.
He had eight uniformed Chicago police - four with flak jackets - and four plainclothes officers with earpieces on hand to make sure nothing untoward happened during a 20-minute swim clinic with a bunch of kids at the Fosco Park pool on the near West Side.
He gave five minutes of special attention to a shy 12-year-old, Shaquille Terrell, who was just learning to swim in the Chicago Park District program.
He returned to the Hilton with a police escort, lights blinking and siren on as it left the pool.
He did a 15-minute Web chat on Channel2016, the Internet outlet for the city's Olympic bid committee.
He had Kelli Zink of CelebTV.com, a gossip site, stalking the Hilton in spike heels and a mini-dress to try for an interview.
He was introduced at a Chicago 2016 reception in the Hilton's ballroom.
He jumped back on the private jet Wednesday night for a trip to San Francisco to do an appearance Thursday for Visa, another Phelps sponsor. From there, it's on to Los Angeles to be a presenter at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Such has been Phelps' routine in the 2 1/2 weeks since he won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Games. He has yet to spend a night in his own Baltimore bed (at a $1.7million townhouse in hipper-by-the-minute Fells Point) but has hit tennis balls at Wimbledon and golf balls in Portugal, done a cameo for HBO's Entourage, starred in a Disney World parade and turned his $1million Speedo bonus for the gold-medal haul into startup money for a Michael Phelps Foundation with the goal of helping kids lead healthier lives.
And he answered our questions, one for each gold medal:
• Kyle Orton might take his offensive line out for dinner if the Bears beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. What about you and your relay mates, especially Jason Lezak?
Nothing yet. But I'm planning something. Without the relays, it [eight golds] wouldn't have been close to being possible.
•We know you love the Ravens. If you were playing football, which position would you play?
I love watching the safeties and corners. I always have [Ravens safety] Ed Reed's jersey or [linebacker] Ray Lewis' jersey.
•Are there any swimming skills that translate to football?
Not in my opinion.
•You are drafting a football team, and the first pick has to be a linebacker. Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher?
Ray, come on. Got to go with my hometown boy. Urlacher is sick, though. Unbelievable linebacker. He's pretty nasty on NFL Street, too.
•Now that you have the eight, will you allow yourself any indulgences?
I'm going to try to redecorate my house. And I'd like to get a new car. I really like the Aston Martins.
•Oprah. Saturday Night Live host coming up. VMAs. Amazing?
I really can't express how cool this stuff is. I talked on the phone with some really cool people. President Bush. Young Jeezy. Saturday Night Live is going to be interesting. I'm going to see if I have a funny side.
•You were a little famous after Athens. How much greater is it now?
We had a guy chasing our car through New York City on foot, in the middle of New York traffic, trying to get a baseball signed. It's hysterical.
•And if Chicago wins the 2016 Olympics, will you compete here?
Eight more years? There's no way I'll be here.
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