Phelps Hopes to Change Face of Swimming

The swimming has ended at the Water Cube in Beijing, but Michael Phelps' reign as a sports icon is just beginning.

Phelps made history by matching Mark Spitz's seven golds -- a feat previously achieved only once in the 112-year history of the modern Olympic Games -- and earning a $1 million bonus from Speedo for doing it.

Several other multimillion dollar endorsement deals are sure to follow.

Phelps may have achieved his dreams of gold while winning over the hearts of sports fans all across the globe, but he also has bigger plans for his sport.

In one of his first post-race interviews, Phelps told ESPN, "I want to change the sport of swimming. I look up to Michael Jordan and what he did in the sport of basketball, how he completely changed it. This sport has changed my life in so many ways, and I just want other people to be able to be part of that."

Michael PhelpsPlay

Of his new hardware, Phelps wore them proudly.

"I put them all on this morning, and it looked pretty cool. They looked pretty cool on. It was a pretty neat feeling," said Phelps.

Phelps won six golds in Athens four years ago, bringing his current career golds to a whopping 14. As if winning gold medals wasn't impressive enough, Phelps broke the world record in seven of the eight events he swam in Beijing, four of which he previously held.

Two Close Calls

In some of the most exciting races of the Summer Games, and arguably in swimming history, twice it seemed as if Phelps' quest could come up short.

First in the men's 4x100-meter freestyle relay when his teammate, the U.S. tri-captain and oldest member of the swimming crew, Jason Lezak, was losing to France's Alain Bernard in the anchor leg.

Lezak beat Bernard in the last meter by eight-hundredths of a second -- the closest finish in the event's history. Lezak's finish, and fastest split in history, was up there with New York Giant's David Tyree's Super Bowl catch earlier this year as one of the most heroic moments in sports history.

The second nail-biter of a close call was Phelps' 100-meter butterfly. Phelps gave everyone a scare when after hitting the wall seventh at the 50-meter mark and still trailing Milorad Cavic of Serbia with five meters left in the race, he didn't seem as if he was going to catch his rival.

In the closest race a swimmer can achieve, Phelps beat Cavic by one-hundredth of a second with a quick half-stroke.

The Serbians immediately filed a written protest to challenge the finish, but according to Cavic's Web site, he "had nothing to do with this filing," rather it was his Serbian Olympics committee and swimming staff who questioned the outcome. Cavic says he is "completely happy," and "there's nothing wrong with losing to the greatest swimmer there has ever been."

Rowdy Gaines, former three-time Olympic gold medalist and NBC commentator at this year's Olympics, screamed in awe following Phelps' butterfly finish. "He gets it done again! He gets it done again!"

Even Phelps' mom had two fingers held up because she believed her son finished second. When she looked at the scoreboard with her daughter seated beside her and realized he'd won, a look of disbelief and nausea seemed to overcome her, so she took her seat.

Phelps' teammate and the world record holder in the 100-meter butterfly, Ian Crocker, had a few words for his teammate following the race.

"After the race, Crocker said to me, 'You have to have angels with you or something.' He goes, 'I have no idea what it is,' and I feel that, yeah, there has to be luck in it, there has to be some luck in it. Everything has to go pretty much perfect for me to be able to do what I just did," Phelps told ESPN.

Phelps: The Making of a Legend

The 23-year-old waterboy from Baltimore has been compared to golfing great Tiger Woods. Like Woods, he has perfected a craft like no other in the history of the sport of swimming. People want to be him. Sports scientists want to study him. And he does not like to lose.

"For me, when I watch other sports, when I watch Tiger, when I watch Federer, when I watch Nadal, the best athletes can compete under any circumstances. No matter what it is, no matter what the pressure, you can always overcome anything that gets put in your way. When Jordan was sick, he was still put up 60 points," said Phelps.

The relay that was swum by Aaron Peirsol (backstroke), Brendan Hansen (breastroke), Phelps (butterfly) and Lezak (freestyle), with a time of 3:29.34, beat out the Australian men and smashed the U.S.'s previous world record. The squad of Peirsol, Hansen, Ian Crocker and Lezak won the gold in Athens, so it was the U.S. team's race to lose.

The Water Cube was packed Sunday morning to witness history in the making.

"There are definitely more people here than any other session. For the entire meet, pretty much the last four rows of the media section have been empty. Not this one though!" USA Swimming's biomechanics coordinator Russell Mark told from his post in the Water Cube.

You can imagine the nerves of each athlete on the final relay team, let alone the men who swam in prelims. Matt Grevers, who swam the backstroke leg of the preliminary 4x100-meter medley relay and won silver in the 100-meter backstroke, said he didn't think the squad would ever make it out of China if they were disqualified.

Well, the U.S. men can sleep easier tonight as they've helped a teammate achieve his goal.

Phelps' relay team member Hansen (fourth-place finisher in the men's 100-meter breastroke) said of Phelps' eight-medal achievement, "This beats the Tour de France, it beats the U.S. Open ... it beats every part of what sport is," and that "all athletes should tip their hats to Phelps."

When asked about the possibility of winning eight golds, and whether he believed it was physically possible, Phelps replied, "In my dreams, I always wanted it."

Tipping my hat, If that's not motivating, I don't know what is.

ESPN contributed to this report.