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Feeding the dream

His six-course brunch was fit for a king - and his court. It was followed by a three-hour nap, but gluttony and sloth are not what made Michael Phelps a celebrated athlete.

A day in the life of the fastest all-around swimmer ever consists of intense hours of training and an equally serious commitment to caloric consumption and rest. His day develops like the directions on a shampoo bottle: awake, eat, train, eat, rest.

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Repeat.

From the mountains of Kenya to America's suburbs, the rhythm is familiar to endurance athletes. Marathon runners, cyclists and swimmers practice, then replenish their bodies and resume a horizontal position as quickly as possible.

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His training base, the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, has a track record of producing Olympic gold, so how does Phelps' routine differ?

Phelps, 18, lives in Rodgers Forge with his mother. His transportation is distinctly American, a sport utility vehicle with a sound system that elicits admiration from fellow teens and glares from middle-aged motorists.

Phelps was still settling into a new schedule on Sept. 16, when The Sun trailed him through a typical day on the road to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, where he expects to have a starring role.

Some of his friends from Towson High's Class of 2003 are college freshmen, away at campus. Phelps had planned to take a course or two at Loyola College this fall, but demands on his time increased after he made history twice in the span of three days in July at the world championships in Barcelona, Spain.

In this pre-Olympic year, there aren't enough hours to be a part-time student. Two years after signing an endorsement deal with Speedo, he is a full-time professional athlete.

"I get more sleep now," Phelps said. "Theoretically, that should turn into better practices, which hopefully will turn into faster times."

That splash you heard is world-class swimmers diving for cover. There are 13 individual events on the Olympic schedule. Over 18 days in the just completed summer, Phelps set world records in four of them, and the American mark in two others.

6:25 a.m.

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Phelps descends the staircase of his Hopkins Road townhouse and offers a groggy good morning. For five years, an average of four times a week, he has practiced twice a day.

A bowl of cereal quiets his stomach, then goes in the kitchen sink, where the milk is lapped up by Savannah, one of his two cats. Phelps pulls on a fleece to ward off the pre-dawn chill, steps into a pair of sneakers, grabs his keys and heads to work.

The accessories on the dash of his 2000 Cadillac Escalade include a touch-screen CD changer and television. He does not check traffic reports or drive-time shock jocks. Phelps' psychological preparation in Barcelona included an Eminem track on his Walkman; this morning, he slips in a Notorious B.I.G. disc.

"Too early for the other stuff," Phelps said. "Compared to that, this is relaxing."

The late rapper weaves an ominous tale of drugs and violence, a vicarious brush with street credibility for Phelps. It's 3.4 miles from his home to the Meadowbrook Aquatic and Fitness Center, and by 6:50 Phelps is stretching on the pool deck. As a masters group concludes its practice, he jokes with coach Bob Bowman.

More than 550 times a year, Phelps and the other members of the NBAC's senior elite group do interval training. There are infinite permutations involving distance, the number of repetitions, the target time for each repeat, the stroke used and gadgets employed. The particulars of a set are written in grease pencil on a board, albeit in a language foreign to non-swimmers.

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The fifth of sixth lines reads "400 PB LB By 100 5:30." That's 400 yards with a pool buoy between the upper thighs. Each 100 yards, the number of strokes per breath increases, hence LB, "lung buster." The set must be completed in 5 minutes, 30 seconds. That is one portion of the morning's warm-up.

"I'm sore," Kevin Clements says.

"You are?" Bowman answers. "Congratulations. Goal attained. Everyone should be sore today, because yesterday was hard."

A native of California, Clements was third at the 2000 Olympic trials, a spot shy of going to Australia. Now, he is the second-fastest American ever in the 200-meter individual medley, behind only Phelps, the world-record holder.

The session also includes Marianne Limpert, a 30-year-old Canadian seeking her third Olympics; Timonium's Emily Goetsch, the reigning national champion in the 100 butterfly, who has delayed her freshman year at the University of Southern California to prepare for 2004; and Jamie Barone, a breaststroker who has qualified for the U.S. trials.

7:35 a.m.

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Sunlight finally peaks over a ridge in Roland Park, down into the Jones Falls Valley, through a stand of sycamores and into the indoor facility where the NBAC trains. The real workout begins.

A hundred yards to the west, commuter traffic on Interstate 83 isn't moving as quickly as Phelps. Two thousand yards are covered in intervals of 200, at an increasingly quicker pace, arms isolated by bands around ankles and round paddles on hands.

Multiplied a hundred times during an individual medley, a misplaced elbow could cost a swimmer seconds.

"Watch the turns," says Bowman, who harps on Phelps' flips. "See how Kevin comes faster off the wall every time? See how his feet get over faster?"

The quicker an interval is completed, the more rest swimmers get, and Phelps has time to prop his elbows on the wall and chug a sports drink. During the 600-yard warm-down, his 6-foot-4 frame effortlessly gobbles up the 25 yards to a movable wall.

At 8:20, the other four change for a three-mile jog to Robert E. Lee Park and back. Phelps suffers from a knee condition that is exacerbated by road work, so he climbs a flight of stairs to an exercise room and spends 20 minutes on a stationary bike.

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Two weeks earlier, Phelps had his wisdom teeth removed, a precaution for 2004. The stitches came out only a day before; a trip to San Diego for a swim convention made meals even more problematic.

"I got over 200 pounds in Barcelona," said Phelps, stepping on a scale. "Now I'm down to 188. Pudding, soup, Jell-O, ice cream, that's all I could handle for three, four days. Now I'm ready to eat."

9:30 a.m.

As a Loyola undergrad, Barone frequented Pete's Grille. When he joined the NBAC, he introduced Phelps to the Greenmount Avenue diner. He and Clements climb into Phelps' Cadillac for a refueling that has become ritual.

Phelps starts with a sandwich of fried egg and cheese, with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and fried onions. He orders another. That is followed by three slices of French toast, a western omelet and a bowl of grits. Phelps finishes with three chocolate chip pancakes, which he puts a serious dent in but doesn't finish.

By the time he eats a forkful of the omelet, Phelps probably has exceeded the recommended daily intake for an active 200-pound man, 2,500 to 3,000 calories.

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"Counting butter and syrup, he might have gone over 4,500 calories," said Lou Sharkey, the proprietor of Pete's. "He has that every morning he's here, except he usually has a milkshake instead of the pancakes. The other guys try to keep up with Michael, but they can't."

Clements puts his head on the counter and begs for sleep. It's hard to rest with Phelps and Sharkey talking trash about their visit to a video arcade in Rockville.

The chatter around the counter is focused on Hurricane Isabel, which is still off the Atlantic coast.

"I can't imagine not being able to play video games for a week," Phelps said.

By 11:15 a.m., Phelps is back home, as fatigued as his teammates.

"See you in three hours," Phelps says. "I need to go to bed."

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2:30 p.m.

For the second time in six hours, Phelps wakes up. He has another bowl of Basic 4 cereal, this time with Savannah in his lap. About as aloof as a Labrador retriever puppy, Savannah could turn a dog person into a cat lover.

Michael's sister, Whitney, who's back in the area after studying and coaching in Las Vegas, pops in.

An end table in the living room has a framed photo of a local seafood house's billboard, which reads, "Congratulations Michael Phelps. Hostess Wanted. Busboy Wanted." The glass case in the dining room holds assorted trophies. The planter in the opposite corner props up a 2004 Athens poster.

The kitchen art includes a print of Sydney's Darling Harbor, a reminder of the 2000 Olympics. The one magnet on the refrigerator displays the toll-free number for an anti-doping organization, where athletes can check on the legality of supplements. Cases of sport drinks are delivered to Phelps' house, unsolicited. The refrigerator is filled with Red Bull, and he pops open a can of the energy drink.

Upstairs, Phelps' bedroom appears Spartan, but it has just been painted and not all of his electronics have been rearranged. In front of the couch, there's a 47-inch high-definition TV. The windows are covered with tin foil.

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"Keeps sunlight and heat out," Phelps said. "Learned that in Sydney from Kyle Salyards and Tom Wilkens."

3:45 p.m.

The afternoon warm-up commences, with a dozen high schoolers added to the choreography.

Each of the four strokes is emphasized at least once a week at the day's main session, and this afternoon it's the breaststroke, Phelps' weakest. Twenty intervals of 100 yards are spiced by five all-out swims, with the number of intervals between the sprints diminishing. As Phelps attacks the first, a dozen members of Meadowbrook lounging at the outdoor pool bask in the glow of summer's last gasp.

A second set of intervals emphasizes muscular endurance, a third the butterfly. The afternoon workout consists of 7,400 yards, 4.2 miles. Toss in the morning session's 5,000 yards, and the senior elite group has logged seven miles for the day, akin to running a marathon. Harder work is coming in the winter, but it's not drudgery when it produces world titles and records.

"This has become second nature to me," Phelps said. "It's a lot of work. I don't think about it. I just do it. I have a talent that no other 18-year-old swimmers have, and I want to use it as much as possible."

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After the session, Bowman is in his office, distributing Olympic year wall calendars and competition schedules for Athens. At the Meadowbrook front desk, Phelps grabs a marker and begins to highlight. He includes the 200-meter freestyle, which would put him in five individual events.

When Mark Spitz earned his unprecedented seven gold medals in 1972, he did four.

6:30 p.m.

Barone and Clements order Chinese food. Phelps hits the speed dial on his cell phone and gives his mother directions to a carry-out on York Road.

Before Debbie Phelps arrives, her son dumps a quart of fried rice on his plate. Barone and Clements flirt with two groups of young women in medical scrubs. Phelps answers his cell phone. It's Diana Munz, an Ohioan who finished second at the worlds in the 800 freestyle, inquiring about the itinerary in Australia, where they will race in two big meets Thanksgiving week.

By 8 p.m., Phelps and his mother are back home. By 8:45, they are on the road to Laurel, where they will spend the night at his sister Hillary's apartment. There's a congressional breakfast the next morning on Capitol Hill honoring the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Phelps will be recognized as their national spokesman.

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Whitney stops by. Phelps catches up with his sisters, washes down bags of chips and Chee-tos with Mountain Dew and works his PlayStation.

When the 2004 Olympics are done and Phelps has stopped growing, the regimen will alter. He'll begin work on his college degree. Weight training and a more vigilant approach to nutrition will be introduced, but as of now, if it ain't broke ...

There was no workout the next day to rest for, so Phelps stayed up past 11:30 p.m. Did he even notice the postscript to the day's first warm-up?

"294 DAYS."

That's how many he had until Athens.

A day with Phelps

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A look at one recent day for swimmer Michael Phelps:

6:20 a.m.: Alarm sounds.

6:40 a.m.: Leave for morning practice at Meadowbrook.

7 a.m.: North Baltimore Aquatic Club practice covering 2.8 miles begins.

8:25 a.m.: 20 minutes on stationary bike.

9:50 a.m.: Breakfast at Pete's Grille.

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11:15 a.m.: Return home.

2:25 p.m.: Awake from nap.

3:45 p.m.: NBAC afternoon practice covering 4.2 miles begins.

5:55 p.m.: Practice concludes.

6:45 p.m.: Dinner at China Wok.

8:45 p.m.: Drive to Laurel, to spend night at sister Hillary's.

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11:30 p.m.: Retire for the day.


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