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The end of an era

Tonight we watched Michael swim his last short course swim, at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD at the NBAC Christmas Meet.  Our club, NBAC (North Baltimore Aquatic Club) has been hosting this meet for 38 years and we’ve had a Phelps’ swimmer in 25 of those meets, Michael has swam in 18 of them.  As I sit here and type that, it seems more real than simply saying the words out loud.

We started swimming at this meet when I was just a few years older than my 5-year old niece.  The meet has changed pools and venues, but we’ve always been there.  It’s almost surreal.

We had friends and family at the meet all weekend cheering on MP.  It makes no difference if you’re an age group swimmer or the best swimmer in the world, having loved ones there to cheer you on and support you is always the best!  And it always brings a smile to my face to hear my niece and nephew screaming “GO Uncle Michael.”

Tonight, Mom and I had the opportunity and honor to time for Michael’s last race, the 100 free.  There was very little time in between the awesome record breaking 200 backstroke and the 100 free, and Michael commented that he was tired from the quick turnaround. The meet director made a special announcement, indicating that it was in fact Michael’s last race at the Christmas meet before the start of the race and he talked with us about his strategy for the race.

Mom was .02 seconds from the "real time" on the clock! Great job!

Afterwards, Michael warmed down and signed autographs.  He has always been so great about staying after he’s finished swimming and signing shirts, caps and photos for kids and teens alike.  He’s very grounded and appreciative of his fans, and it shows when he stays after the meet and talks to as many people as possible.

People asked us if it was hard, being that this was the last Christmas Meet, and honestly, I’m not sure that the winding down of the last year has sunk in.  But, I do believe that it will be toughest next year, around this time, when we don’t have the Christmas meet to attend.  Who knows… maybe one of the nieces or nephews is next, and we can continue the Phelps’ swimming tradition.

We thank you for all of the kind emails, messages and tweets… from a family who values the little things, it’s appreciated and thoughtful.  We recognize that while it’s meaningful to our family, it’s memorable to you, the fans, as well!

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Ok, ok, ok.

We’ve spent several days in the different markets throughout Shanghai, and the ubiquitous words are “ok, ok, ok.”  The Shanghainese people have been so warm and kind.  We have enjoyed the trip incredibly, but are also looking forward to heading home in the next few days.  Always fun to travel, even better to get home.

Antique Market, Shanghai, China

The American men had a great swim last night in the 4×200 freestyle relay, albeit it a close one until the last 100.  After the medal ceremony, Michael came over to us to present the rabbit and flowers. When fans see Michael coming over, they rush down and circle around, which can make it tough to leave.  We try hard to take photographs and sign everything that we can, before having to leave the pool for the evening.

Our view as we tried to exit the stand.

Dinner last night was at the top of the Hyatt, which overlooks the older side of city.  Shanghai is split into two parts: the new Shanghai and the old, more traditional Shanghai. The city lights up at night, but shuts down around 11pm, when all lights turn off.  Even on a Saturday night, the lights are dim all around the city.

When we were traveling from the market today, the cab driver asked from where we were visiting.  We said the United States and he said “Oh… Phelps!” The culture really embraces Michael and it’s great to see.  I was trying to explain that “we are Phelps’ family.”  He didn’t quite understand, so I pulled out my camera, on which I had photos from the holidays and showed him the one of our family, showing all of us together, thinking that it would help with the connection.  Michael’s hair was longer and he had a beard, so the explanation didn’t make a connection.  We had a card with Michael’s picture and his agent’s contact information on it, and handed it to the driver.  He still looked confused, which is probably the same look Peter (Michael’s agent) will have on his face when he receives an email from the Chinese cab driver who drove us around Shanghai this afternoon!

Tonight, we watched Michael compete in the 100 butterfly, which was his 25th World Championship gold medal. He was  a little off of his best time and made a face as he traveled over the lane lines, to climb out of the pool. As I watch Michael on the medal stand, with his hand over his heart and a smile on his face, with his hair short and his face shaved, I see a little boy.  Every time. I try hard to not tear up, but it’s tough. He’s worked so hard, for so long, and every gold medal is one that was earned through hard work, not simply handed to him because he is the best swimmer in the world.

We left the pool and wanted a traditional Chinese meal of Hot Pot.  Not a well thought out plan, as it feels as if it’s close to 100 degrees outside the restaurant, so imagine all of the heat inside.  Hot pot is a traditional Chinese meal, much like fondue.  You select a broth of varying tastes and spice levels, that boils over a hot flame, in which you cook your meat, vegetables or seafood.  One of the funniest things of the night was when we were brought boiling hot water, in wine glasses, to drink with our meal.  I think there was a bit of a language barrier there, when ordering bottled water.

Tomorrow is the last day of the 14th Annual World Championships here in Shanghai, China.  It honestly seems like yesterday, when we were standing in the stand, in Rome, Italy, in 2009 for the closing ceremonies, when the words “See you in Shanghai 2011” flashed up on the screen.

Those two years flew by in a blink of an eye.  And I know this next year will be the same, with a bittersweet element, momentous swims and many a DP moment thrown in for good measure.  As this trip wraps up and we move into the next year, I’m reminded daily by the Chinese culture, everywhere we travel, that things will be “ok, ok, ok.”

Victory in the 200 Fly

My hands hurt from clapping and my voice is hoarse from screaming, but it was a great night at the pool for Michael!

After a day of sightseeing in the Chinese Markets, we headed to the pool for the finals of the 200 fly and the semi-finals of the 200 IM.  Prior to this year, Michael hadn’t lost the 200 fly in competition in 9 years and it was tough when he was beat in Michigan for the first time, by Wu Peng, a Chinese swimmer who is competing here at the World Championships, earlier this year. Tonight was his night to reclaim the title of World’s Best in the 200 meter Butterfly.

We were anxious before the race, seat dancing to Lady Gaga and Pink, to expel some of the nervous energy. But when Michael started his race, with a fast reaction time, we knew he would have a great race, as he looked good from the beginning.

We swim each stroke with him, rocking back and forth, even simulating the turns with leaning forward as he stretches into the wall and then backwards as he pushes off.  He cranked home on the last 50 and by the time he got to the half way point, we knew he had the race.  It was great to see the happy, relaxed look on his face as he climbed under the lane lines to exit the pool. He looked up into the stands, where we gave his two thumbs up.

No matter the number of gold medals or how many times one hears the National Anthem of the United States of America, it never gets old.  Seeing Michael on his stage, the podium, never gets old. He has accomplished such legendary achievements in the sport of swimming, that seeing his continued success is as equally inspiring as when he broke his first World Record or won his first gold medal on the international swimming scene.

MP fans came down to our seats to wish us congratulations and showed us signs and shirts that they had made with photos and sayings.  Lots wanted autographs and more wanted photos, but all of the fans were gracious and warm.  We enjoy meeting all of the fans, who have been so supportive of Michael’s swimming, books, swim school and Foundation. So, to the fans, the Phelps’ family thanks you!

It’s late here – almost midnight – and the days seem to be getting longer, while the time gets shorter.  The days in Shanghai are flying by and tonight when Michael was standing on the podium, I remembered the first time I saw him on the medal stands on the World’s stage, in 2003 in Barcelona.  I still see the little boy (even though he’s 8 years older and way taller than he was then!) I saw many years ago.

Michael’s win tonight made him the first person in history to win five World Championships in a single event for long course meters.  Congratulations Michael on a phenomenal swim… we’re looking forward to the rest of the excitement as the last few events of the 14th FINA World Championships unfold.

A T-shirt made by a fan

 

The fan who made the shirt

 

MP Fans

 

The Process

Getting ready for Finals tonight (we’re 12 hours ahead of home, East Coast time) I’ve realized how traditional we have been with our process.  By traditional, I mean that we have traditions, set patterns, that we follow for each meet.  And through the years, they are often the same.

My mom, sister and I (and this trip Nicole) follow the same routine.  Up in the morning, eat breakfast together and then off to prelims.  Sightsee, rest and prepare for finals is how the afternoon time is spent.  And then it’s off to the final heats for the evening.

We arrive to our seats early, with time to settle in, before the races begin. We’re air chair critics, without the critisum.  We sit and analyze each person’s race, not because we’re experts or because we’re being picky, rather we need to pass the time until Michael swims.  Believe it or not, I’m convinced that we get more nervous for his swimming than he does.  He’s cool, calm and collected… or at least looks that way.  He comes out on the pool deck exuding ownership and dominance over the water.  It’s incredible. And then you look at us, rocking in our seats, wringing our hands and sometimes, squeezing each other’s hand.

Tonight we have the 200 Free Final and the 200 Fly semi-final.  Well, Michael has the 200 free and the 200 fly, we’re simply watching and cheering.  Two tough events in a field of tough competitors.  It’s sure to be a good night…

Sitting in our seats the first morning

Headed into the pool and through security

Some sightseeing in The Old City

Michael on the blocks for the 200 free semi-final

 

Day One… It has begun.

It took us a little longer to get here than expected. Delayed on one end, held on the runway for another portion… it reminded us of World Championships in Barcelona in 2003, when it took us almost two full days to get to Spain.

The 14th World Championships are happening this week in Shanghai, China and Michael has said that he will retire after London 2012, making this his last World Championship meet ever. From Barcelona to Montreal to Melbourne to Shanghai, he has swum many a stroke and broke many a records and we’re looking forward to the next few days of swimming coming down the pipeline.

We watched the Men’s 4×100 free relay tonight where Michael swam the first leg, and swam it well. The men came in 3rd place, behind the Australians and the French. While standing on the podium, we could see Michael looking around and were trying to catch his eye by waving our arms in the air. He saw us and waved back. We watched the men receive their medals and walk in front of the media for photographs. Michael then peeled off and came to the other side of the pool to say hello. He talked about the race and handed us the flowers and the stuffed rabbit, which he said was for T (short for Taylor), our niece and our sister Whitney’s daughter. He kissed us and ran off to warm down.

Making our way back to our hotel, we had an authentic Chinese meal at a local restaurant. It’s funny how “Americanized” we are, and noticed it when someone made a comment about how good PF Changs would taste. We had a good laugh and found ourselves grateful for all being together, as we watch Michael wind down his career.

The title of the blog, 70 Percent Water, is two-fold: 1) The earth is (roughly) 70 percent water and 2) our family has probably spent 70 percent of our time around and in the water, in the past, when we were younger as well as today, in the present. Water has been good to our family.

I’ll be writing from Shanghai, posting photos on occasion and sharing with you our experiences from the swim meet in China.