TOWSON, Md. - Michael Phelps isn’t wasting time. He’s getting ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I’ve already started my training schedule for the next four years,” he said.
Three weeks after the Athens Games, in which he won six gold medals and two bronze, the swimmer was feted in his hometown Saturday in a celebration dubbed the “Phelpstival.”
Asked if he would try again to match Mark Spitz’s record seven gold medals, Phelps said, “I wouldn’t count anything out. A lot can happen in four years.”
Phelps, 19, could retire from swimming tomorrow and his legacy would be secure, especially in his hometown in suburban Baltimore.
Cedar Avenue, the quiet, leafy street that’s home to Towson High School, was renamed “Michael Phelps Way.” Phelps graduated from the school two years ago.
A moment of silence was held during the ceremony in memory of the victims of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Later, as Phelps was honored at the county courthouse, bagpipers played “Amazing Grace” and white doves were released into the sky after a prayer.
Phelps was honored by a succession of dignitaries, including Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Sens. Paul Sarbanes and Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Reps. Benjamin Cardin and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. He received proclamations and a key to the county. Among the gifts was an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol.
Several speakers lauded Phelps for giving up his place in the final of the 400-meter medley relay to teammate Ian Crocker.
“Michael, we love the way you conducted yourself. You comport yourself with class and dignity,” Ehrlich said.
The crowd of more than 1,000 was exuberant, notably the shrieking teenage girls.
“I shook his hand!” said a trembling Paige Sawicki, 14. Phelps’ appeal is obvious, she said: “He’s a good swimmer and he’s really cute.”
Looking on was Lou Sharkey, owner of Pete’s Grille, the Baltimore diner where Phelps ate his celebrated 3,000-calorie breakfasts while training for Athens.
“I feel like I won,” said Sharkey, who noted that Phelps hasn’t been to his favorite eatery since the Olympics. “He was supposed to come over yesterday, but he had too much on his plate.”
Along the parade route, Phelps stood in an SUV alongside Smith and his mother, Debbie, tossing T-shirts, buttons and other paraphernalia to the crowd. As the route reached downtown, Phelps took off the T-shirts he was wearing and tossed those, too.
The shirts listed Phelps’ accomplishments, and seven of his sponsors. Phelps is an enthusiastic pitchman, and he spoke at length about “Swim with the Stars” tour, which will take him around the country with fellow medalists Crocker and Lenny Krayzelburg.
But Phelps also is involved in several charities and works with children from a local elementary school. After the tour, he will move to Ann Arbor, Mich., where he will train at Club Wolverine and attend the University of Michigan.
“I am moving to Michigan, but this is always going to be my home,” he said.
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