Michael Phelps' girlfriend ain't none of yo business

Maese et al.,

Subject: Private lives and private eyes


Fame is a strange beast, my friend. The world of gossip journalism is freaking out right now, trying to figure out whether or not Michael Phelps has a girlfriend. He is, in some ways, the David Beckham of the swimming world at the moment. The British tabloids are basically making things up about his private life (big surprise there!) saying that he's dating model Lily Donaldson or swimmer Amanda Beard, and TMZ.com has sent us a slew of emails, trying to confirm a rumor they heard that it's another swimmer. (Dear TMZ: Seriously, you could not be further off the mark.)

The suggestion that it's Amanda Beard is probably the most ridiculous rumor. Phelps and and Beard both shot it down in interviews the last few days (Beard: "Eww!"), and the Donaldson stuff is probably just as made up. Beard has a boyfriend, and it's not Phelps. I'd wager Mike has never even met Lily Donaldson. He just laughs when people make things up about him.

"You can't hide anything," he told me earlier this year. "Everyone finds out everything anyway. And if they don't, they just make something up, and no matter what you say, people believe it anyway. It's fine, I guess. It's part of what I do."  

Billy Bush, the journalistic equivalent of Beelzebub, caused a minor kerfluffle a few days ago when he showed Mike's mom a text message from Lindsay Lohan saying her son was, "(bleeping) amazing and I want to meet him!"

(Memo to Lindsay: If you really did send that message, you're about four years to late. And you're nasty. Enjoy your increasing irrelevancy.)

Let me say this: There is a girl, and she's been a part of Phelps' life for awhile. She's not famous. I've seen them together at events, and she's striking. She makes Lohan look like Amy Winehouse. We've even got a picture of them together. (How do you like that, gossip sites?) But you know what? Some things in a guy's life deserve to be kept private. He's been successful in keeping things quiet thus far, declining to discuss their status, which is both understandable and admirable. (She was at the U.S. trials in Omaha, Neb. What their status is now, I don't care to speculate.) Whether or not he won eight gold medals, he deserves to have a part of his life he doesn't share with the world.

Australian swimmers deal with this kind of media frenzy all the time. When Stephanie Rice and Eamon Sullivan broke up shortly before the Olympics (reporters were tipped off when their status changed on Facebook), it was huge news Down Under. They live their lives in a fishbowl. Libby Trickett sold the exclusive rights to her wedding photos to the magazine New Idea. Grant Hackett had to answer a firestorm of questions from reporters after a poor performance at the 2007 world championships, and respond to speculation that he'd been too involved in his wedding planning to train properly.

Phelps has always said he wanted to make swimming as popular in the United States as it is in Australia. And so maybe dealing with this kind of speculation and rumor-mongering is a part of that process. The saddest thing is, if one Web site reports it, that somehow legitimizes it in the eyes of others. So they pick it up and the story -- completely untrue, remember -- snowballs. There is probably no stopping it.

This is fame, I guess.

You can't help but feel uncomfortable as you watch the sleazy adventure unfold.

Photo: Speedo ad campaign