WE KNOW Michael Phelps is a kid because he listens to Eminem on his iPod, had the five-ring Olympic logo permanently tattooed on his hip, and wears his swimming trunks so low he could use a bikini wax.
Teenage girls all over the world, who have a homing device for their own species, have declared him a hottie. And yet, at 19, the swimming phenom from Rodgers Forge has displayed a remarkable maturity in the way he's conducted himself as the unquestioned star of the Athens games.
The closing gesture of his 17-race week, giving up a relay slot and his last chance to swim in Athens to a teammate he had just bested, was a final grace note in an overall performance that revealed Mr. Phelps somehow managed to stay grounded during the headiest of experiences.
Of course, he did set off with the cocky ambition to try and match Mark Spitz's 1972 feat of winning seven gold medals. And he entered so many events, he was often competing twice a day with races less than 90 minutes apart. He even chose to take on favorite Ian Thorpe in the 200-meter freestyle, just for the challenge of it.
But when his third-place finish behind Mr. Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband put Spitz's record out of reach, Mr. Phelps didn't come undone. He seemed relieved.
He went on to set records of his own, winning eight medals overall, including six golds -- more than any other swimmer in a single Olympics. And he appeared to thoroughly enjoy himself, savoring the experience but not getting rattled by the hype.
With nearly $1 million in incentives and bonuses earned in Athens, Mr. Phelps returns to a life of promotional tours, trailing his coach to the University of Michigan, and perhaps another Olympics or two.
With luck, he'll also find time to just be a young man with drooping pants. No need to grow up too soon.