NEW YORK -- Michael Phelps matched one of Mark Spitz's
accomplishments without even trying. Now, it's on to the Olympics.
Phelps didn't find out until after he'd won the 2003 Sullivan
Award as the nation's top athlete on Tuesday night that Spitz won
the award, too -- 32 years earlier.
"He won it before he had his big success at the Olympics, so
maybe it's a sign," Phelps said with a laugh. "I don't know. You
can always hope."
Phelps, the 19-year-old American swimmer who will try to equal
Spitz's seven Olympic gold medals at the Athens Games in August,
beat LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Diana Taurasi, who
recently led Connecticut to its third straight NCAA women's
Last year's winner, Sarah Hughes, received a standing ovation
when she was introduced at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.
Afterward, she sat next to Phelps, signing autographs.
Phelps, from Baltimore, is the first swimmer to win the award
since Janet Evans in 1989. Spitz won the 1971 award, and then won
seven events at the 1972 Munich Games.
"It's definitely harder to do now than when Spitz did it,"
said Phelps, who did not win a medal at the Sydney Games in 2000.
"We have prelims, semis and finals for everything 200 (meters) and
below, so it's going to be a challenge."
Phelps has yet to speak with Spitz, but said he wants to. He's
far too young to remember Spitz's performance in Munich, but grew
up watching Olympians Tom Dolan and Tom Malchow.
"Dolan was one of the most dominating IM-ers the world has ever
seen," Phelps said.
Phelps also recently decided to move to Ann Arbor, Mich., to be
with coach Bob Bowman, who recently took the head job at Michigan.
Phelps, who has already turned professional, can't swim for the
Wolverines, as Malchow and Dolan did.
As a 15-year-old, Phelps became the youngest American swimmer to
set a world record, winning the 200-meter butterfly at the USA
Swimming Championships in 1 minutes, 54.92 seconds.
In 2003, he also became the first male to win five U.S. titles
at one meet, setting a world record in the 200 individual medley.
At worlds, he also set five records.
The other finalists for the award were short-track speed skater
Apolo Anton Ohno and 57-year-old masters track-and-field athlete
Philippa Raschker, an accountant from Marietta, Ga.
The Sullivan has been presented by the Amateur Athletic Union to
the nation's best amateur athlete since Bobby Jones won it in 1930.