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Phelps surely hopes so. Every chance he gets, he talks of wanting to raise the sport's profile in the U.S., where it barely gets noticed in non-Olympic years outside of neighborhood swim meets. He was the star attraction in Beijing, drawing huge television ratings back home -- where the morning finals could be shown live in the evening.
President Bush watched Phelps win two races. Basketball stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were there Sunday, rooting him on to his eighth gold.
"The sport of swimming has come a long way so far, and I think it can go even further," he said. "I can take it even further."
The kid who was scared to put his face in the water has grown into the face of his sport. There surely will be plenty of promotional appearances in the days and weeks to come, as Phelps tries to capitalize on his accomplishments while they're still fresh in the public's mind. He hopes to bring everyone along for the ride.
"Mike is opening a lot of doors with what he's doing," Peirsol said. "Hopefully the sport can build on this momentum."
Not that anyone will see Phelps in a LZR Racer anytime soon. He'll take a nice, long break from swimming. The early morning wake-up calls, the grueling weight sessions, the endless laps in the pool -- all are on hold for now.
Besides, he has to pack. Phelps will be moving back to Baltimore after spending the last four years in Michigan, where he grew into a man and learned to be on his own for the first time.
Home sounds pretty good to the 23-year-old Phelps, who has a strong relationship with his mother, Debbie, and two older sisters. Phelps' parents split when he was only 7, and the relationship with his father has long been strained, but the women in his life cheered him every step of the way in Beijing.
After the eighth gold, Phelps climbed into stands to give all three of them a kiss. Debbie gave her boy a little extra hug, tears streaming down her face.
"I just want to lay in my own bed for five minutes at least and just relax," Phelps said. "One of the things I'm really looking forward to is getting back to Baltimore."
Not that he's breaking up his hugely successful partnership with coach Bob Bowman. They've been together since Phelps was an overactive 11-year-old, bouncing off the walls when he wasn't beating everyone in the pool. They headed off to Michigan together when Bowman took a job there. Now, the coach is returning to the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, where their relationship was forged.
Phelps plans to return to the pool in plenty of time to get ready for next year's world championships in Rome, where he'll start to tinker with the program that worked so well in Athens and was even better in Beijing. He plans to dump the 400 individual medley, the most grueling race on his schedule, and would like to take on some shorter events.
The 100 freestyle is the most likely addition.
"He thinks it'll be a little easier," Bowman said. "He's more naturally suited for longer distances. It'll be change for him, but I think it'll be a good one."
Four years from now, Phelps has every intention of returning for the London Games, where he'll be able to add to his already remarkable record.
"Bob has a saying, 'Putting money in the bank,' " Phelps said. "When we train every day, sometimes there are workouts you don't like, don't want to do. Bob says you're putting money in the bank.
"I guess I put a lot of money in the bank over the last four years, and we withdrew pretty much every penny in the bank. After Bob and I both grab a little break, it'll be time to start depositing."
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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