At a pool that is most famous for housing some of the greatest United States Olympians, hidden far from the outcries of potential lock-outs and millionaire athletes worrying if they can make the next payment on their foreign cars, the most accomplished of them all walked back to the cool-down area of the IU Natatorium at IUPUI.
There Michael Phelps, a fourteen-time gold medalist, mostly hidden from the fans, cameras, and the majority of those in attendance at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Thursday night. Which is too bad, because if Coca-Cola had been there, because an opportunity for a true-life representation of their famous Mean Joe Greene commercial.
As Phelps walked back to the pool deck, after swimming 2011 world best times in the 200 Freestyle and 100 Butterfly, he heard the voice of a young boy call out to him.
"Hey Michael Phelps, can I get your autograph?"
What happened next, was a slice of life moment that will perhaps leave an impression on a young mind forever. Phelps didn't look to grab a pen or a program to sign, instead he gave the fan something he'll never be able to just purchase on Amazon.com for $500. Phelps instantly grabbed his 100 Butterfly gold medal that he had won just a handful of minutes before, and tossed it into the boy's hands, making him the happiest little kid in town.
"It's always fun to see little kids and the excitement on their faces," said the once young 25 year-old Phelps with a world class smile.
"All the kids around him were over there and like 'Oh my God, no way', and the mom made sure she got a hold of the medal for the little boy. But it's always good to have these guys out here and cheering us on, because these are going to be the guys who are going to be taking over our place in a couple of years."
Taking over Phelps' place? Well, with each visit to the IU Natatorium, Phelps seems to make that a little more difficult. Ranging from the time he first made Team USA at the Olympic Trials in 2000 to his 50.22 world record butterfly at the 2009 Summer Nationals, the best seems to be brought out in the overall 16-time Olympic medalist (fourteen golds and two bronze) in Indianapolis.
Thursday night at the Indianapolis Grand Prix was no different, with Phelps swimming a 1:46.27 in the 200 Meter Freestyle and then just 40 minutes later swimming 51.75 in the 100 Butterfly.
"I told myself if I was under 1:47 in the 200 Free, than I would I be really happy," said Phelps. "So when I saw 1:46.2, it kind of surprised me a little bit. But the number-one time in the world, I'll take it. I'm really happy, the freestyle is connecting better than it has in the past."
Phelps' long-time coach Bob Bowman, was just as pleased.
"I really like his freestyle," said Bowman.
"That was the first time it has been his normal stroke in awhile. That was really good, and his 100 Butterfly was great, but if he would have taken one more stroke he would have been fifty-flat. But the good news is, it's the top time in the world and he could do better."
However the athlete wasn't as happy with his 100 Butterfly, noting that he wished he could have gone faster. But both Phelps and Bowman specified that this is more of just training for the World Championship's this summer in Shanghai, China, and preparing for his final run at the Olympic games.
"This year is a big year for me," said Phelps. "Being able to come into the World Championships and be a year out from the Olympic Time Trials and the Olympic games, I really want to have a program set at the end of this summer that I am confident in going into London. But we are a lot closer then we are a month ago.
And as Phelps gets closer to pristine form, Bowman relishes the chance to train him one more time.
"It's just great to have him finally back."
Phelps maybe a national star making noise at the Natatorium on Thursday night, but some prep-stars from Indianapolis had some top times as well.
Center Grove Junior Emma Schoettmer (2010 100 Breaststroke IHSAA Champion) finished seventh in the 100 Breaststroke Finals, but more impressively finished with a 1:11.10 in the preliminaries, a time good enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials.
Carmel Sophomore Lacey Locke, who left the 2011 IHSAA State championship just a few weeks ago with four first-place medals around her neck, finished ninth in the 400 Individual Medley with a time of 4:56.99.
"It's really different being here," said Locke, compared to the IHSAA Championship.
"I love both of the atmospheres and the energy. The State meet my team and I love because everybody is there cheering, and it's like you're famous, one of the big guys here. You know everybody you're swimming against, you're rocking all of your swims here, it's just a totally different atmosphere here. It pushes you though, just as much as the State meet possibly does, because you are competing against the best."
Locke was joined by fellow teammate and fellow Sophomore Ariana Bullard, who finished 16th in the 10 Butterfly at 1:02.37.
Phelps impresses at Grand Prix; Area prep stars compete well
Olympic Gold Medalist Michael Phelps swam the two best times in the world for the 2011 season at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Thursday night, while Center Grove and Carmel had some stand-out performances as well.
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