Flashback: Michael Phelps at the Sydney 2000 Olympics
Michael Phelps turned 30 years old Tuesday, which means his Olympic debut was half a lifetime ago.
If he suits up in Brazil next year, he will become the first U.S. male swimmer to compete in five Olympics.
Here’s a look back at Phelps’ first Olympics, in Sydney in 2000, courtesy of NBC footage, newspaper reports and autobiographies:
Phelps, with braces on his bottom teeth, walked onto the pool deck at the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials at the Indiana University Natatorium listening to a CD of his favorite rapper, DMX.
At trials, the boy who sprouted four inches in the previous year to 6 feet, 3 inches, came second to 1996 Olympic silver medalist Tom Malchow in the 200m butterfly, earning a spot on the Olympic team.
“He doesn’t know what it means to go to an Olympics,” Malchow said then, according to newspaper reports. “He doesn’t know how it’s going to change his life. He’s going to find out soon.”
Phelps became the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since the Great Depression, when Ralph Flanagan made it to Los Angeles 1932 at age 13. In 2000, Phelps reportedly shaved his face maybe once or twice a month.
Phelps flew to Brisbane for a pre-Games camp, where he stayed out of trouble with a 10 p.m. curfew. Once in Sydney, he made several mistakes befitting a boy of his age.
Phelps roomed in the athletes’ village with 17-year-old Aaron Peirsol, a Californian whose use of the word “sweet” stuck with Phelps.
They played James Bond and Tony Hawk video games during free time, but while alone Phelps tried to fire up the game system himself. Not knowing the electricity conversion between the U.S. and Australia, he fried one of the games, according to the first of his autobiographies, “Beneath the Surface.”
Phelps proved much smoother in the pool at the electric Sydney Aquatic Center.
He looked up and saw some 18,000 people at his first-round heat and then swam a personal best to win over a field including defending Olympic champion Denis Pankratov of Russia.
“Boy, this guy’s going to be great one day,” NBC Olympics analyst Rowdy Gaines said on the broadcast.
In the semifinals that night, Phelps again clocked a personal best. And again, he swam with his waist-to-knees jammer swimsuit strings untied.
“I just don’t think I’ve ever seen such poise in a 15-year-old boy,” Gaines said on the broadcast.
The next night, coach Bob Bowman wanted Phelps to arrive 2 1/2 hours before the final. But Phelps missed that mandate by 90 minutes. He took Peirsol’s athlete credential by mistake and had to go back to the athletes’ village to retrieve his own.
The final was at 4:20 a.m. Baltimore time. Phelps was obviously nervous. He did something you never see swimmers do during Olympic final introductions. He rose from his chair behind his starting block in lane six, walked past Russian Anatoly Polyakov to his right and up to Malchow in lane four.
“Let’s go baby, you can do this,” he told Malchow.
“I’m not sure what I was thinking,” Phelps said in his first book, “Beneath the Surface.” “I was kind of scared.”
Phelps was unaffected in the water, touching the wall in 1:56.50, which would have earned silver or gold at every previous Olympics. In Sydney, it put him in fifth place behind the winner Malchow. Phelps, in his trademark style, came back from being in last place after the first 50 meters.
Following the race, Malchow patted Phelps on the back and told him, “The best is ahead of you,” according to “No Limits,” another Phelps autobiography.
Phelps just about met Bowman’s pre-Games suggestion that he aim to cut one second off his personal best. He went .98 faster than at trials, where he also swam personal bests in all three of his 200m fly races.
Bowman put Phelps back in the pool for a workout the next day and reportedly gave his young phenom a piece of graph paper with “Austin WR” written in the margin.
The following March, Phelps became the youngest man to break a world record, doing so in the 200m fly at the spring nationals in Austin, Texas.