Members of the U.S. swim team Natalie Coughlin, right, Michael Phelps, center, and Jessica Hardy pose for photographers during a media day for Speedo sponsored athletes ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
By Julian Linden
LONDON, July 25 (Reuters) – Wearing a dark hoodie and sporting a shaggy goatee beard, Michael Phelps looked anything but the world’s greatest swimmer when he arrived in London for the Olympics.
While his American team mates were all clean shaven and dressed in matching white t-shirts, Phelps strolled into his pre-Games conference on Wednesday seemingly without a care in the world.
But if his disheveled appearance, that extended to his official Olympic headshot, was an attempt to lull his competitors into a sense of security or lower his own expectations, his dispelled them when he took his first plunge into the London Aquatic Centre and was all business.
Phelps might be retiring after the Games and chasing one less gold than his eight-medal haul from Beijing in 2008, but he remains as motivated as ever.
“I’m lot more laidback this time around,” he told a scrum of reporters. “I still have goals. I still want to win.
“There are things that I still want to do and that’s why I’m here.”
One thing Phelps won’t get to do in his final Olympic appearance is march at Friday’s Opening Ceremony.
At his three previous Olympics, Phelps watched the ceremony on television because he was racing the next day and the 27-year-old is resigned to missing another one.
“I’d love to but I have to race,” he said. “They say you’re on you feet for about five hours and it can take a few days to recover so I can’t do it.”
Whether he wins gold in each of his seven events or not, Phelps’ Olympic swan-song is commanding most of the attention in the leadup to the Games.
He was the center of attention at a sponsor’s conference on Wednesday and his team mates and rivals are all fascinated to see how he will finish his career.
“People are really going to miss Michael,” said Natalie Coughlin, who is making her third Olympic appearance.
“We still have a lot of other really good swimmers, but they’re not Michael. What he did in Beijing was just insane.”
Jacco Verhaeren, the national coach of the Dutch swimming team and the man who trained Pieter van den Hoogenband and Inge de Bruijn, said he was full of praise for Phelps for deciding to swim in London.
“What he did in Beijing was insane, it was a massive performance,” Verhaeren told Reuters.
“I’m very pleased that he’s here again. Who could blame him to say after reaching all his goals had all his dreams that this was it.
“He’s a legend he will stay whatever the outcome will be and it’ll be great to see him race again.”