Michael Phelps has achieved another unprecedented feat: The first swimmer honored as Sports Illustrated's sportsman of the year.

Phelps broke Mark Spitz's iconic record with eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics in August and became the winningest Olympian ever with his 14 career victories.

Olympians in other sports have earned the award before in its 54-year history, but never a swimmer. In 1972, the year Spitz won his medals, UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and tennis great Billie Jean King were honoured by the magazine.

"Honestly, I feel like the same person I've been my whole life," Phelps told The Associated Press at a recent photo session where he posed for the Sports Illustrated cover. "I'm doing what I love. I was able to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish this year. It's been a dream come true of a year, and I definitely couldn't ask to change anything."

The 23-year-old Phelps follows a more traditional winner, NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Sports Illustrated Group editor Terry McDonell called the selection of Phelps "the easiest choice I have made."

"It is so obvious that he changed not only swimming, but the entire Olympic landscape," McDonell said.