A flying start
Michael Phelps celebrates after smashing his own world record in the 400-meter individual medley to win his first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics. "That was amazing," said Aaron Piersol, the world record holder in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke. "It was one of the most amazing swims I've ever seen in my life. It blew me away." (Getty Images / August 10, 2008)
Michael Phelps didn't feel like himself Sunday morning in China. In the ready room, just a few meters from the pool inside the 11,000-seat Water Cube, he sat in silence by himself, listening to music with his head down.
Something was amiss. He looked, in every sense of the word, nervous, the rarest of emotions for Phelps. But minutes before the start of the 400-meter individual medley final, something unusual happened.
"I started getting these chills up my body," Phelps said. "Right then, I knew I was starting to get more and more excited."
The excitement translated into another historic performance by Phelps, as the 23-year-old from Rodgers Forge won his first gold medal of the 2008 Olympics.
It was an event that most expected would be one of his toughest races of the week, but Phelps showed just how ready he is to chase history, blowing past Hungary's Laszlo Cseh and American Ryan Lochte.
Leading by half a body length going into the final 50 meters, Phelps shot off the final turn as if he had been rocketed forward by a trampoline.
He increased his lead over Cseh and Lochte by a margin so overwhelming that he even allowed himself to get a little emotional over the final few meters. As he stroked toward the wall, he said he had something of an out-of-body experience, thinking back to his race in Athens, when he won his first gold medal.
"I remember coming off the last wall in Athens, and it was kind of the same feeling," Phelps said. "I saw myself out there. I sort of started smiling, and then I realized I was hurting and they could catch me if I didn't start moving."
After he finished, Phelps pumped his arms and scanned the crowd, trying to find his mother, Debbie, and his sisters Hilary and Whitney. He couldn't figure out where they were sitting, but he did make eye contact with President Bush.
-- Kevin Van Valkenburg
Silver: Laszlo Cseh, Hungary
Bronze: Ryan Lochte, USA
Phelps' time: 4:03.84, WR
Previous world record: 4:05.25 (Phelps)
Key to the victory: The breaststroke. After a close 200 meters, Phelps took care of business in the breaststroke, posting what he said was "his fastest breaststroke split ever."
Highlight: President Bush waved a tiny American flag, gave Phelps a thumbs-up and then nodded to him after he climbed out of the pool.
Quote: "I couldn't stop crying. I was just thinking about everything I've been through this year. It was just really emotional." -- Phelps, on his emotions on the medal stand