pitch in in other ways as well. A local doctor, chiropractor, weight trainer
and physical therapist offer rowers deep discounts. So does the restaurant
Pizza Star, which used to serve team members all they can eat for $5. On the
wall of the eatery are oars shaped like pizza paddles in U.S. and Italian
colors, team photos of U.S. squads and a stern-looking painting of hyperintense
U.S. men's coach Mike Teti.
As a world
champion and Olympic silver medalist, Anna Mickelson, 27, is among the team's
most decorated—and compensated—rowers. Last year she made $27,000 off stipends
and bonuses from the USOC and her sport's national governing body. She has
lived with three host families over seven years and worked jobs with flexible
hours for companies based in or near Princeton. "The body and mind can
handle the rowing life," she says, "but the best rower in the world
would be better off financially doing something else. Thank goodness for the
people of Princeton."
A football school also boasts some of the best swimmers in the country—most
notably the sport's reigning king
MICHAEL PHELPS is
putting up a good fight. With his body upright and arms at his side, he kicks
frenetically, trying to avoid touching the bottom of the pool. More than 30
seconds pass before he gives in and ends this leg-strengthening drill.
Afterward, Phelps does strokes with large paddles strapped onto his hands, then
swims the butterfly without kicking his legs. The 22-year-old, who won six gold
medals at the 2004 Olympics and seven at the '07 world championships, embraces
the self-imposed resistance since the competition doesn't always provide much
of a challenge.
Phelps isn't the
only decorated swimmer at the pool in Ann Arbor, where he works as a volunteer
assistant for Michigan's swim team and trains separately with the independent
Club Wolverine. Olympians Erik Vendt, Kaitlin Sandeno and Peter Vanderkaay have
seven Olympic medals among them, and as many as five other Ann Arbor swimmers
could be Beijing-bound. "It's an eight-cylinder engine at Michigan,"
says Jon Urbanchek, the Wolverines' coach from 1982 to 2004. "When one
doesn't function, the car is going to cough. We work all eight cylinders
efficiently. It's an environment with a common goal."
the tradition of the men's program, which has won 11 NCAA team championships
and 156 individual titles, until Bob Bowman, Phelps's personal coach, took over
a few months before the Athens Olympics. The lure for Bowman was the program's
unusually farsighted goal of preparing swimmers for the Olympics and its
history of recruiting individual medley and distance swimmers, often at the
expense of sprinters who can pile up points in dual meets and the NCAAs.
"Jon really nourished a culture of Olympic excellence that you don't find
at many universities," Bowman says. When U.S. men won gold in the 4 �
200-meter freestyle relay at the 2004 Games, three of the swimmers were Phelps,
Vanderkaay and Club Wolverine alum Klete Keller.
Though the pool
at Ann Arbor's Canham Natatorium isn't especially fast, the Olympic pride in
the two-decade-old facility is palpable. The hallway of the back entrance is
lined with glass-enclosed cases holding 72 swim caps from 11 countries, each
cap with the name and flag of a Wolverines swimmer or diver who competed at the
Games. On the far wall opposite Bowman's office, a clock located below large
Olympic rings counts down the time until the opening ceremonies in Beijing on
Aug. 8. The fractions of a second are extended to eight decimal places.
recommended Bowman as his replacement, Phelps willingly came along from their
Baltimore club. "I would have followed Bob to Siberia," he says.
Fortunately Ann Arbor is closer and sometimes even warmer. Phelps bought a
four-story town house near the natatorium, became a regular at Wolverines
football games and began taking courses in kinesiology, something he has now
put on hold until after Beijing.
Even under a
hooded jacket in winter, he is easily spotted by passersby, and local eateries
know to expect his order for a double breakfast. As much as Phelps tries to
remain low-key, his teammates are particularly aware of his presence.
"Think having the greatest swimmer in the world after your butt each day
doesn't make you faster?" says Vendt.
The top competitors in America's backyard game play in a building that
juxtaposes shuttlecock-smashing with Thai cooking and catalog printing