Reactions to my open letter to Michael Phelps' agent were swift and insightful. It's clear Michael has a lot of love from his fans, but it's also crystal clear that many are worried about him.
I want to say this once and for all: Michael's going to have fun and do what most any guy would do at this point in his life. (Outside of the water, he is as normal as any guy you'll meet.) Unfortunately, every move he makes has been and will be captured and preyed upon because of his fame--which sells magazines.
From my experience, hovering around the periphery (at competitions, or parties, or Phelps appearances), he's slammed by people "wanting him." It must be exhausting. But he seems to handle it well. I think he gives a lot of canned answers in interviews to simply to pace himself. And he has to stay "on message" when he's talking about swimming. What else is there when you're Mr. Swimming.
Also, reporters rarely ask him interesting questions. When they do, Michael gives interesting answers. I think a big issue for us (those in the know, with an understanding of swimming) is that we've already heard all the answers. There's still a huge population getting indoctrinated, so to speak. Michael (and his agent Peter) are well aware of this.
So, to the point of this blog: If you're in the know, and want something more, go to the reporter who knows Michael best, specifically one that has been following Michael's narrative from his hometown. I'm talking about Kevin Van Valkenburg of the Baltimore Sun.
Kevin's young, talented, and about as lovable as any guy I've meet this past year on the pool deck. He's the kind of reporter who can go anywhere--behind-the-scenes, into the hallowed halls of power--because he's very unassuming. In lieu of meeting him, watch him star in this episode from Chlorination:
Kevin won Michael's (and Peter Carlisle's) trust. As a result, Kevin started capturing Michael on video as he interviewed Michael this past year. The camera's eye, static and low, is obviously from sitting on a table at a restaurant. It gives you the feeling of sitting with Mr. Swimming, and his answers are as honest as I've ever heard from him:
A big, big thanks to Jennie for sending me these links. They used to be on YouTube (which I live off of), but were taken down.
An interesting note: Octagon was not happy about these videos--from what I heard. I don't think it's the content. I think they were feeling the "media pressure," and wanted to maintain as much control as possible rolling into Beijing. While I understand the need to control Michael's image, these turned out well. I LOVE THEM, because Michael's so real...