|ESPN.com: Swimming||[Print without images]|
"I've been up every night watching him swim, and I'm exhausted," he said shortly before the start of the 400-meter medley relay. "I'm normally in bed by 9 p.m." Phelps' ties to Ann Arbor began after the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where he won six gold medals. His coach at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, Bob Bowman, became coach at Michigan, and Phelps followed him here. He enrolled at school but could not swim for the university because his many endorsement deals negated his amateur status. Rather, he joined Club Wolverine, an elite postgraduate swim team also coached by Bowman, and began preparing for Beijing. Despite Phelps' fame, he was not nearly as recognizable as many of Michigan's football players, which apparently suited him just fine. Outside of his close friends and teammates, employees at Phelps' favorite eateries got to know him best because his prodigious workouts resulted in a prodigious appetite. Norm Peterson, nom de plume of the host at Casey's Tavern on Depot Street, recalled that Phelps first turned up there when he was 20 and remained a regular. He often ordered two of the half-pound hamburgers but otherwise acted no differently than any other customer. "He's a real nice guy," said Mary Motto, who often served Phelps his burgers. "He was friendly, but really timid. He fit right in."
|Customers at The Arena, a sports bar in downtown Ann Arbor, gathered around TVs as the 4x100 medley relay got under way.|
This was Phelps' neighborhood -- before he announced he was returning to his native Baltimore area, where Bowman also will return to direct the North Baltimore Aquatic Club. He lived in an eight-story condo building called The Ashley Mews on South Main Street and frequented a number of nearby eateries, among them the Prickly Pear Southwest Cafe. During a conversation with David Lyon, a server who often waited on Phelps, the topic quickly turned, as usual, to his large appetite and favorite food. "Buffalo meat enchiladas, usually two entrées, and a couple of appetizers," he said, also noting he was impressed with what he described as an atypical jock attitude in Phelps.
Yet despite Phelps' fame and his Ann Arbor ties, no signs of support or recognition of his celebrity were visible in his downtown neighborhood. Michael DiRamio, an Ann Arbor resident who had joined Turriff at The Arena, said he was not surprised. "I didn't even know he lived here until this week," he said. DiRamio's explanation: "The sports they focus on in the Olympics are not sports we normally watch." This attitude mystified Pat McConville, an Ann Arbor-based scientist and Australia native who had brought his friends, Turriff and DiRamio, from the Arbor Brewing Co. to The Arena to watch the race. Swimming is a major sport in Australia, he said, and its stars are revered on a level with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan. If Phelps was an Australian going for an eighth gold medal, he said, giant TV screens would be set up in downtown plazas of every major city. If he won, Sydney would stage a ticker-tape parade the likes of which few would ever have seen. When the Games began, McConville was not a Phelps supporter. But with each victory, McConville became more impressed -- and thrilled he lived in the same town the swimmer had trained. Still, as race time approached, McConville could not help but note the irony that the team that stood between Phelps and his record medal was none other than his beloved Aussies.
|Rick Steigelman, manager, and Norm Peterson, host, at Casey's Tavern removed an autographed picture of Michael Phelps for fear it would be stolen.|