Published July 26, 2012
| Sports Network
London, England – Michael Phelps and his coach sat down in front of a packed press conference and pointed their phones at the throng of reporters and photographers.
Phelps and Bob Bowman laughed.
"I'm going to take a picture of you guys," Phelps said. "You guys are getting a lot of us."
It wasn't the most interesting thing Phelps said Thursday, two days before the swimming program begins here, but nothing painted a better picture of how the best swimmer of all time is approaching these London Games.
In his last Olympics, Phelps is trying his best to have fun more than anything else. Personal goals, as always, are what keep him motivated, and the records will happen when they happen, he said.
But the pressure to win eight gold medals in 2008, whether he felt it or not, is gone from what Phelps considers just another swim meet -- one in which he could become the winningest Olympian of all time.
"Going into Beijing, we were trying to conquer everything. But I think Bob and I have been a lot more relaxed over the last four years and we're having fun," said Phelps.
"This is the closure," he said. "And really it's how many toppings do I want on my sundae. And that's what I'm doing. I'm having fun. This is something that I enjoy."
Distractions be damned.
There are plenty to go around, too, with one U.S. teammate who has criticized his work ethic and another who has been built up as Phelps' biggest rival.
Phelps said teammate Tyler Clary apologized for comments he made saying the 14-time Olympic gold medalist doesn't train as hard has he should.
In an interview with a California newspaper Clary said he saw a "lack of preparation" in Phelps in the past and watched "somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time."
Phelps said Clary came to him the next day to bury the hatchet and told him the comments were taken out of context. Phelps said an apology wasn't necessary, and that was that.
Except that Bowman and Phelps have always used such bulletin-board material as extra motivation, which is like motivating a Ferrari to go faster by printing out a negative review from Car and Driver.
The thing's built for speed.
"Some people like to express their feelings in words, some like to express them in actions. I've always done that through swimming and that's how I will continue to do it," Phelps said.
"People can say and do whatever they want; that's fine. I've gotten to where I am today from working hard and I know that and Bob knows that and if nobody else thinks that it doesn't really matter. I'm very happy with my career and what I've done throughout it and we're going to see what happens over the last week of it."
The week begins with the most anticipated race of the Olympics, the 400-meter individual medley. Phelps, the two-time reigning Olympic champion in the 400, was beaten by Lochte at U.S. trials last month.
"This is something I've been looking forward to for a while and it's going to be a fun one to start," said Phelps. "It's going to be exciting. You can guarantee it's going to be loud in there."
Lochte, who insists the rivalry doesn't extend outside the pool with someone he considers a good friend, said he isn't swimming just to beat Phelps.
"Michael's just one person," said Lochte. "There's a bunch of other swimmers across the world that I gotta worry about. So I'm just doing what I normally do. I race. And I'm just going to go up on the blocks and race and have fun and if Michael's right there with me then he's right there with me."
After a beat, men's coach Gregg Troy said: "He doesn't need to worry. Michael will be right there."
Women's team member Natalie Coughlin said she was looking forward to the race as well.
"I'm personally really excited to watch it because I think that's going to be an awesome race," she said. "It'll have a lot of energy behind it and hopefully give us a lot of momentum."
In the meantime, Phelps is taking it easy, spending his time relaxing alone or with teammates. Sometimes he's by himself in the shared suite at the athletes' village, blowing through episodes of "The Wire."
"When he's with us he's just normal," said Lochte. "He's like all of us. We don't see him as anything different. But I can imagine at some times he definitely does get more exposure. I mean, after what he did in 2004 and 2008, he better."
Phelps has 16 Olympic medals, including a record 14 gold. He needs just three medals of any kind here to break the current overall Olympic record of 18 set by Larisa Latynina, a Russian gymnast who competed in the 1950s and 60s.
"I don't think everything I've done in my career has really set in, but I think over time and once I retire everything will start to set in more and more and it will mean a lot more," said Phelps.
He can't wait to get started on the last chapter.
"It's kind of annoying sitting around and waiting all the time. As soon as we get in the village we want to start competing. We don't want to wait," said Phelps. "It's kind of tough just sitting in the room and doing nothing. We have a couple days before we start and we don't stop until it's over."