Michael Phelps – you may have heard of him by now. But in 2004, as he prepared for the Athens games, he hadn’t yet hung a gold medal around his neck. (To show how far he’s come, he’s now ringed 14. And two bronze.) He had the opportunity to land eight gold medals, which, at just 19, would have vaulted him past Mark Spitz’s 32-year record. He didn’t – grabbing six in Athens, but would attain the glory in Beijing.
Before he swam into both the record books and history books in Athens, he was seeking just a modicum of respect for his craft. TIME’s cover story noted:
“Phelps wants to make swimming matter. He… desperately wants what Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe has–the prestige, the celebrity and, not least of all, the marketing clout to stand, here in the U.S., with the best athletes.”
Wait, Thorpe who?