Remember this guy? It's American swimmer Michael Phelps, who became the first swimmer ever to win eight medals at a single Olympic Games four years ago in Athens.
He won six golds and two bronzes, and since then, almost impossibly, he has gotten even better.
At last year's World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, he won seven gold medals, matching Mark Spitz's legendary performance from the 1972 Munich Olympics. Improving on that output is in Phelps's sights six months from now at the 2008 Beijing Games.
This morning, he appeared on TODAY with teammates Dara Torres, Ryan Lochte, Kate Ziegler, Katie Hoff, Amanda Beard and Natalie Coughlin. WATCH VIDEO
A few minutes before they all sat down with Matt Lauer, Michael chatted with me. Here's our conversation:
DF: It's been almost four years since you left Athens with eight medals. You're about to be re-introduced to the American public...what should we all know about how you've changed since the last Olympics?
Michael Phelps: I don't think anything. Very much the same guy I was in 2004. I think the biggest thing is I'm a lot more prepared than I was in 2004. Just from being able to have gone through what I went through in 2004 helped me prepare more and better, and helped me relax more going into these Olympics.
DF: So you feel more mentally prepared?
MP: Right now, yeah. We still have six months to go, so there's still some time, but I definitely feel more confident, more comfortable and relaxed.
DF: When [teammate] Ian Crocker beat you at the 2003 World Championships in the 100m butterfly, you put up a poster of him in your room for motivation...so whenever you would wake up, you would see his face. Is anyone or anything providing the same kind of motivation this time around?
MP: [Retired Australian swimming star] Ian Thorpe just came out with a few comments. I have that article in my locker and next to my bed, next to my goals. So that's something that's definitely there for me to see and get me motivated and more excited. But my goals are right next to my bed. My coach and I are the only two people who know what those are. Being able to wake up and look at those every morning is helpful.
DF: Did winning seven gold medals at the World Championships last year ratchet the pressure up for you by raising expectations or did it actually take some of the pressure off since you proved you can do it at a major competition?
MP: It was just a meet. The Worlds and the Olympics are totally different meets. There's so much more pressure at the Olympics than there is at Worlds. The biggest thing about last year was for me to be able to show I can do that event program at a level like that and still compete well. Having last year happen was another confidence booster more than anything else.
DF: What's the best part about being Michael Phelps right now? And what's the worst?
MP: I wouldn't change anything. I guess the only bad thing is I'm on the road a lot right now.
DF: And you're tired--
MP: Yeah, that's about it.
DF: I read somewhere that you're learning Mandarin...how serious is that?
MP: It's tough. It's a lot harder than learning French or Spanish like I did in high school and middle school. But it's something that's fun and something I'm looking forward to. Hopefully I'll be able to learn it in the next six months to be able to get around in China a little bit. I know a little bit already, just trying to pick up verbs, masculine and feminine. I'm starting from square one, so we'll see what happens over the next few months.
DF: I also read a quote from you after you broke your wrist last October. You said that if you could live in a bubble to stay safe and out of trouble, you would.
MP: It would probably be the safest thing for you to do. I really am a fish out of water, I'm pretty clumsy.
DF: If you had to live in that bubble, what would you bring inside for entertainment?
MP: Right now, I've been playing a lot of Nintendo Wii and XBox. Just playing a bunch of video games. They would be a must. I don't go hours without the Internet. I'm always on the phone or on the computer.
DF: Are you still eating your insane caloric breakfasts like you were before Athens?
MP: Definitely not as big as it was before, but I'm trying to get the amount of nutrients and calories I need to keep my body going.
DF: What music are you listening to these days?
MP: Any new hip-hop, whatever comes out, I pretty much download right away.
DF: Since you're a Baltimore area native, I have to ask...do you watch "The Wire"?
MP: I actually just bought the first two seasons on DVD. I've seen some episodes but not all, so I'm going to get into it religiously. I've seen a few episodes and say, "Oh, I live down the street from there. My mom's house is right down there..." It's a pretty cool show.