As Michael Phelps yesterday prepared to make his competitive debut in Britain – in the British Gas Duel in the Pool between Europe and America taking place here tonight and tomorrow – he said that it was flattering to be named in the same company as Tiger Woods, in sporting terms at least.
The American swimmer has won 14 Olympic gold medals, more than any person in history, and was this week voted fourth in a global athlete of the decade poll, behind Woods, Lance Armstrong and Roger Federer, and ahead of Tom Brady and Usain Bolt.
"Probably there hasn't ever been a swimmer inside the top five in a vote among such company," said the 24-year-old from Baltimore, who won eight golds at the Beijing Games last year to add to six from Athens in 2004, and has broken 37 world records.
"When you think of Tiger, Bolt, Armstrong, these guys are some of the greatest athletes ever to walk the earth, let alone in their own time. To be considered among them is an honour and it shows, I hope, that I am helping to make my sport more popular around the world."
Phelps, like Woods, has had his share of controversy, not least when he was photographed this year smoking from a bong, which he described as "behaviour which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgement".
"I'm wishing the best for Tiger Woods and his family," Phelps said. "You see who your friends are at times like these."
The Duel in the Pool is new to these shores and will feature the cream of American swimming versus most of the best of British, Italian and German talent with Rebecca Adlington the headline home name.
A subplot will involve who wears what suits: high-tech costumes are banned from 2010 but not here. Phelps will swim in 2010 fabric.Reuse content