According to casual estimates, this American swimmer must have at least a room in his house full of his medals. The same estimates suggest with surety that a corner must now be full of his Olympic triumphs alone. At 27, Michael Phelps has indeed swam to every record, laurel and accolade there is in the path of an international athlete.
Known also as the Baltimore Bullet, Phelps holds the world record in the 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly and the 400m individual medley. He has won 71 medals in international events. A rich haul as it may be, 57 of these are 'golden in colour.' It shows how relentless Phelps has been in water, settling mostly for nothing short of the top-spot. In the London Games this year, he broke the overall record of the highest number of Olympics medals won by an individual athlete - 18. That awards and appreciations have come in equal proportions is a given.
Born and raised in Baltimore City, he is the youngest of three siblings in a family which has English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and German ancestry. Taking the plunge at age seven, he was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It was not something which could prevent him from taking the national record for his age, at 10. Five years and a lot of records later, he found himself at the 2000 Summer Olympics - the youngest male US swimmer in 68 years to reach this event. He could not get himself to the podium despite a superb showing.
A year later, in the 2001 World Championship Trials, Phelps broke the 200-m butterfly world record. Age: 15 years and 11 months!
While he found himself making the headlines in almost every event he participated in from here, it was in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens that he plundered Gold medals till there were no events left for him. A team-mate reportedly joked that he could not shop because his medals did not leave any space in his luggage. He won 6 Golds and 2 Bronze!
World Championships and Pan Pacific Championships came and went in the ensuing years with Phelps mostly continuing his dominance and earning the nickname - Flying Fish.
Beijing witnessed Phelps at his absolute best in 2008. The American was possessed, some said, with the goal of grabbing only Golds. To finish second and third, let alone without a medal, did not look like a part of his strategy at all. Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, who Phelps had idolized as a teenager has said that he could not win eight and Phelps reportedly stuck the spoken words on his locker so that it would motivate him. And so it was as he bagged a record eight Gold medals. While most thought Phelps could do no more to stun the world, his performance in the 2008 Olympics left everyone gaping in awe and saluting the sensation.
While Phelps has been a sensation, a champion and a pioneer in the sport, he has also been a man aware of his social responsibilities. He started the Michael Phelps Foundation which focuses on promoting swimming and a healthier lifestyle. The foundation was funded by his bonus of a million US dollars from Speedo. He has said that he will look to expand his work once he retires from the sport.
Of course with success, there also are controversies. At 19, Phelps pleaded guilty to charges of driving drunk. He also lost a sponsorship deal when he was clicked smoking a water-pipe.
The champion athlete though has bounced back each time and continues to amaze the world with his abilities. On August 4th, he announced that he will not appear in the Olympics again. His team celebrated his feats and his win - Phelps announced it shortly after winning yet another Gold - with as much passion as Phelps' fans have shown. The swimmer will continue to be feared and revered equally whether he competes in person or he lets his timings and medals tally act as a champion opponent to beat!
London Olympics tally: 6 medals - 4 Gold and 2 Silver