Eight years ago Phelps dived into the water for his first Olympic race. Since then he has had eight years of training, eight years of planning, eight years of waiting. Eight years to grow in every conceivable way. And though no one can be sure what will happen, we know this: Come 8/8/08 Michael Phelps will be more ready than he has ever been. The next day, when the swimming begins, he will walk to his block and wipe it with his towel. He'll be listening to hip-hop, and then he will stop. He'll snap his arms three times, and his mind will slip into that instant, and everything else will fall away. And as he stands on the block he'll glance at that cross on the bottom of the pool, and it will look oddly pristine to him, as though he's never seen it before. He'll step forward. He'll reach down. And then he will go.
See what makes Michael Phelps so efficient in a photo gallery narrated by Brian Cazeneuve at SI.com/Olympics.