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When Michael Phelps speaks, everyone listens

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Somehow, Michael Phelps is smiling.

The other press conferences – for divers, wrestlers, and archers – have been modest affairs, a sprinkling of jet-lagged journalists amid empty seats and pat answers. But Michael Phelps steps to the podium, and instantly the Olympics have begun.

Questions come in every accent the world has yet devised, all asking questions that he has answered for more than four years. The word “Spitz” – that's Mark Spitz, as in the world record holder for most gold medals won in a single Olympics (1972) – is rather common.

But Phelps, by now, is a professional Olympian, as is 40-something Dara Torres to his right, who notes that she has now been doing this for 24 years. Teammate and world-record holder Katie Hoff is 19.

On the stage, they whisper to each like two schoolkids at the back of the class, grinning at their own daring. Phelps has chosen this of all moments to grow a Fu Manchu moustache that makes him look at once comic and oddly imposing. Five hours later the decision is on Google News.

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