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Phelps: Gold keeps me swimming

Michael Phelps, arguably the world's best swimmer, is back in China and aiming for gold three years after he won eight gold medals and set seven world records at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

The 26-year-old American begins competition today at the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai.

He aims to break records he set in 2008 while wearing a rubberized suit, the kind now outlawed by FINA, so it may be tough going.

Phelps is a celebrity ambassador for OMEGA, the official timekeeper for the FINA event. On Friday he attended an event sponsored by OMEGA at a Bund hotel on Friday. Wearing a purple T-shirt and jeans, he met 10 Shanghai primary school students and spoke to reporters about his recipe for success: Practice makes perfect.

Phelps was born and reared in Baltimore, Maryland, and began swimming at the age of seven, influenced by his older sisters who were swimmers. He excelled and by the age of 10 had set a national record for his age group. More age-records followed and he qualified for the United States Olympic Team in 2000 at the age of 15.

Phelps holds the most world's records in swimming. His Olympic total is a staggering 14 gold medals and two bronzes. He has set 37 world records, including 29 solo world records and eight as a member of a relay team.

At the ongoing World Championships, he aims to add to the 20 golds he has won in previous FINA World Championships (which in itself is a record).

Phelps coach Bob Bowman has said of his star, "His greatest strength is his ability to relax and focus under pressure. As the pressure gets higher, he performs better - that's very rare. He has an ability to be at his best at the critical moment."

More than 2,000 athletes are competing in the World Championships covering a range of aquatic sports, including swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo.

Q: When encountering difficulties as a young boy, did you consider giving up? How did you make yourself continue?

A: I think there have been a lot of times in my life that I wanted to quit. I just want to stop swimming and do something else. But I think the big encouragement is the gold that I have and that really keeps me motivated and keeps me going. There are always days when I want to drop and get out of there, but when you think of your gold and think about what you have to do to get it, that's how I keep myself going.

Q: What's your secret for success?

A: Hmm. Just hard work, that's pretty much it. There were tough times but I haven't given up until those golds were attained. There have been a lot of troubles but I'll never forget what I want most.

Q: How did you prepare yourself for this event in Shanghai? What are your expectations?

A: I think the last six months have been really good and I've had solid training. I have a mixture of individual and hopefully relay events over the weekend. The biggest thing for me is to really prepare myself for the next year when the Olympics starts. So we just head in the right direction, moving forward, swimming faster than last year and making progress.

Q: Is Chinese swimmer Wu Peng tough competition for you?

A: I think everybody out there is better and better, stronger and stronger. I think Wu Peng has made good progress in these years.

Q: You grabbed eight gold medals in Beijing. Was that the peak of your career?

A: It's something that we'd been working on for years and years. I always want to do something that nobody has ever done before. Everything came together in Beijing. The next Olympics will be in a year and the World Championship is the most important warm-up match before that.

Q: What does time mean to a swimmer?

A: Time is part of my life, and also my career. For me it's especially in water that I leave others behind in a small margin of victory.

Q: Is fashion important to you?

A: I spend a lot of time in the water, but when I'm out, I like to be comfortable and relax. I always like to have some cool things.


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