'No Vacation' When You're Michael Phelps's Mom

Debbie Phelps talks about the challenges and joys of raising a champion.

BEIJING, Aug 11, 2008 — -- It was a nail-biting Olympic moment at the Water Cube today. Fans were on pins and needles as American swimmer Michael Phelps and his teammates trailed the French in the 4 x 100 meter men's relay.

Just when fans thought Phelps's hope for a record-breaking eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics was about to slip away, American teammate Jason Lezak surged forward and hustled alongside his French rival in the final leg of the relay.

Lezak stretched out his arm to out-touch his French counterpart by merely eight hundredths of a second. Phelps's teammate had just helped him secure his second gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, winning a gold for themselves too. Phelps's quest for the magic eight would continue.

In a one-on-one post-race interview with ABC News, Debbie Phelps explained what it was like being the mother and No. 1 fan of Michael Phelps, one of the most celebrated athletes competing in the Beijing Olympics.

Sitting in the stands this morning at the 4 x 100 meter men's relay, Phelps sat in nervous anticipation as she watched her son and his teammates win the gold.

"Watching that relay and oh my god, oh my god, oh my god," Phelps said. "That was nerve-racking."

"My heart's pounding, my stomach is starting to do flip flops, but I'm trying to be very composed on the outside. I hope it comes across that way," laughed Phelps. "It's no vacation for me."

Phelps doesn't think she is any different than other parents of Olympians. "Any parent who says it is easy to watch [their child compete], I would question that. ... We are a nervous wreck."

What did the Olympic champion's mom say to her son after the dramatic win this morning?

"I love him, I'm so proud of you," she said. But usually her greetings aren't delivered over the phone.

"Really, it's texting. He always reaches out to us. Sometimes he calls. ... We're lucky if we get a call."

But today's victory in Beijing was extra special. Debbie Phelps and her daughters were seated close enough to grab some quick hugs and kisses from their Olympic champion. Michael gave his winner's bouquet of flowers to his mom, a woman who has been his champion his entire life.

From String Bean to Ace Swimmer

"He was a very tall glass of water, a string bean," Phelps's mom told ABC News. "He was a very tall kid, and he was very awkward. His ears were a little big. People would tease him, which was very difficult for Michael."

"He wanted to run, but he had trouble running," she said, smiling. "But he has such a charismatic smile and a great personality."

Along with the teasing classmates, teachers told his mother that the young boy wasn't going to make much of himself. "It was very difficult to hear that," Phelps admitted. As a mother, teacher and now administrator, she knew better than to believe Michael's critics.

"Mike was a very energetic little kid who wanted to get answers to questions ... always in motion," she said. It was this ceaseless curiosity and energy would eventually serve as the foundation of his success as an individual and an athlete.

"I just wanted Michael to experience everything he could possibly experience."

Not a Stage Parent

Phelps is not just a proud mom of an Olympic champion but also a highly informed swimming fan. She knows the rules of the pool and the standing American and world records. She analyzes the splits from this morning's 4 x 100 meter relay like a die-hard follower.

However, when it comes to her son's career, Phelps is there for Michael only as a supportive listener, not a coach or decision-maker.

"I've been there not to dictate or guide. I'm there to listen to what he wants to do and try to help him problem solve and make a wise decision," Phelps told ABC News.

"Every time Michael gets on the blocks, he has a goal for himself, and he knows what he wants to do. ... I don't set those goals, and I'm a very strong advocate of [the idea that] I'm the parent not the coach or the agent or whatever there is to be."

"And when we're home, we're home as a family."

When it comes to whether her son will break Mark Spitz's gold medal record at the Beijing Olympics, Debbie Phelps stays far away from the speculation.

"I don't get caught up in the four, six, eight. Whatever the number might be, I just know I'm here to support Michael in every swim he takes."